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Broderick & Davis

The Billion Dollar Fairy Shrimp

Finally environmental common sense seeps into government agencies
[Gregory T. Broderick and Denise Davis] 8/15/03

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently roped off three-quarters of a million acres of California land for Endangered Species Act protections supposedly needed for microscopic fairy shrimp. While you'd think the environmental crowd would be overjoyed at this massive designation of so-called "critical" habitat, they are typically unsatisfied, already claiming that the feds have not gone far enough. In what is becoming a one-note song, these groups respond to every environmental decision from the Bush administration like Chicken Little: "The sky is falling."

Last spring, FWS proposed listing 1.7 million acres in California and Oregon as protected fairy shrimp habitat. Laughably, the government determined that the designation would cause only $120 million in negative impacts on the community over 20 years; less than $4 an acre. All too familiar with the damage critical habitat restrictions cause, California's Central Valley communities got together, held meetings, and sent thousands of letters to FWS detailing the devastation they would suffer.

By law, the government must consider these "public comments" and use them to measure the impact on the community. FWS then must determine whether the economic harm caused by designating certain regions outweighs the benefit to the species. If so, the Service may exclude those areas.

The administration relied on sound science and economic studies submitted during the public comment period and discovered that its original $120 million estimate was wrong; the actual impact was nearly $1.5 billion. Recognizing that the species could recover without these areas, that the benefit to the species was minimal, and that the impact on the community was devastating, FWS did the right thing and excluded these areas from designation. While 747,000 acres is still an exorbitant and unnecessary amount of land for microscopic shrimp, this represents a step in the right direction.

Residents of rural America have long been the social and economic victims of FWS' "species-first, people-last" approach. In the past, federal bureaucrats have enforced the Act in an unreasonable and abusive manner under pressure from hardcore environmental activists. By following the law and putting people back into the equation, this Administration has finally acknowledged that you don't have to bankrupt communities to protect the environment.

Hopefully, this limited step in the right direction by the Bush Administration is the first in a long journey towards reining in the continuing excesses of the Fish and Wildlife Service and requiring some common sense and balance when administering the ESA.

Gregory T. Broderick is an attorney with the Sacramento-based Pacific Legal Foundation. Denise Davis is the Foundations' Director of Media Relations. Pacific Legal Foundation is a Sacramento-based public interest legal organization dedicated to property rights protection, limited government and individual rights. For 30 years, PLF has fought for balance and common sense in application of the Endangered Species Act.

copyright Pacific Legal Foundation



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