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Old 05-26-2001, 08:20 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Post Save Wildlife: Stop the Semantics Over 'Species'

Wednesday, May 23, 2001

Save Wildlife: Stop the Semantics Over 'Species'

By: David Mastio, Editorial Writer

First of Two Parts

What do an Alaskan goose, a white-tailed deer from Washington state and a
flat-bellied water snake from Michigan all have in common? They all are (or
recently were) listed as endangered species but at the same time weren't
actually endangered "species."

How is that possible, you might ask? Simply put, the Endangered Species Act
protects a lot more than just species that are dying out in the wild. The
definition in the law states that "endangered species" are "any subspecies
of fish or wildlife or plants, and any distinct population segment of any
species or vertebrate fish or wildlife which interbreeds when mature."

The ESA might more accurately be called the ESSDPSA (the Endangered Species,
Subspecies and Distinct Population Segment Act). It turns out that about a
third of the "species" on the endangered species list aren't endangered
species at all.

Which gets us back to those Alaskan geese and their relationship to the Bush
administration. Upon entering office Bush Interior Secretary Gale Norton
took the opportunity to announce with a bit of public fanfare that she was
delisting the "Aleutian Canada Goose." The feathery waterfowl joined an
illustrious handful of real success stories for the ESA and its enforcers at
the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

Press coverage of the PR event dutifully referred to the goose as an
"endangered species," but even the Fish & Wildlife press release admits that
the goose is really a "subspecies."

So what does that mean? Well, the U.S. government spent 30 years and
millions of dollars to keep non-endangered Canada Geese living on little
rocky islands off Alaska. A colossal waste of money and effort.

Which gets us to those deer in Washington state and that Michigan snake -
their stories are basically the same. The Columbia White Tail Deer, upon
which the U.S. taxpayer has lavished millions, is genetically identical to
the white tail deer that live on the other side of the Rocky Mountains and
of which there are far too many. Genetic analysis also shows that most
"endangered" Columbia White Tail Deer are actually half-breeds of the local
non-endangered black tail deer. Believe it or not, there are more than 1,000
deer-car accidents in the U.S. daily - 150 alone in Michigan where the
copperbelly water snake is "endangered" as well. Only, it's not even a
subspecies, it's a "distinct population segment" of the yellowbelly water
snake which is a subspecies of flatbelly water snake. Neither yellowbelly
nor flatbelly water snakes are endangered and the scientists who helped
decide the copperbelly is endangered have a hard time telling it from the
yellowbellies that live in the exact same area.

In each case, a quirk of geography turned animals living on the edge of a
species' normal range into a separate legal "species." Take notes here,
because this is the difficult part: Animals living at the edge of a species'
normal range are always rare and in danger of getting wiped out - that's why
it's the edge of their range. There are some places where it's good for a
particular kind of animal to live and there are some places it's not. Fewer
animals live in places it's not easy for them to live.

There's little blame for the folks who wrote the law back in 1973 when
Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter were still governors and our current
president was still on the sauce. Back then scientists knew little about
looking deep into the genetic code to see that animals that looked a little
different because they grew up in different environments are actually all
but identical at the genetic level. Today, after the O.J. Simpson trial and
the semen-stained dress, every American is aware of the power of DNA.
Inexplicably, however, Congress refuses to update the frozen-in-amber
species definition it has placed into law.

So now this little federal code fossil leaves behind two delicious ironies
for the liberals and environmentalists who defend its sanctity: We can't do
much to save endangered species until we update the law. For the last 30
years, as the endangered species list has grown encrusted with efforts to
save subspecies and distinct population segments, annual spending to save
legal "species" has grown nearly every year. The catch is nearly every year
the per-"species" spending has gone down. If the feds were to abandon
efforts to save legal species that aren't actually species, the per-species
spending could go up by about 50%, a boost big enough to make possible some

In April, the Bush administration proposed curbs on lawsuits to force the
federal government to act more quickly on endangered species. The reason the
feds don't act more quickly is simple: Too little money spread over too many
species. If environmentalists really cared about saving endangered species
and thought that concentrated government spending and regulation could save
them, then they'd back a means to focus efforts on saving actual biological
species instead of "legal" species. Of course, their real agenda may be
different, perhaps tying up as much land as possible in government red tape
and damn the biological consequences.

The second wonderful irony of the fossilized species definition is its
racist overtone. Last fall, a drumbeat of stories came out based on new
research about the genetic differences between humans of different races.
Typical of the headlines was this from The New York Times: "Do Races Differ?
Not Really Genes show." The irony is that the level of difference between
whites and blacks and Asians that those studies show is greater than the
difference, for instance, between the Columbia White Tail Deer and its
cousins in Colorado. Not to be too delicate, but according to the definition
of species in the ESA, blacks and whites and Asians aren't just different
races, they're different "species."

How's that for sick?
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Old 05-29-2001, 08:12 AM   #2 (permalink)
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It is antics like this that make so many of us distrust the these programs when there are - burried in all of the political crap - some leagitimate "endangered" animals to be saved <IMG SRC="smilies/frown.gif" border="0">
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>It only hurts the first time you agree with me...
>"A little nonsense now and then is cherished by the wisest men."
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