OP-ED: Endangered Species Act prime example of federal overreach

OPINION EDITORIAL – Of all the examples of federal overreach, it is difficult to find a more egregious one than the Endangered Species Act. Few understand this better than Utahns, for whom the expression a “fine kettle of fish” is not just an idiom but an everyday reality.

A case in point is the June sucker, a rare species that is native only to Utah Lake. It is listed as endangered under the ESA, which means federal agencies are obligated to try and save it.

June Sucker | Photo credit Utah Division of Wildlife Resources

Unfortunately, the plan they have hatched to do it – the Provo River Delta Restoration Project – calls for exercising eminent domain to seize a combined 700 acres from roughly a dozen property owners who have used and been responsible stewards of the land for generations.

No matter, some bureaucrats and environmentalists say, the lower 1.5 mile-stretch of the Provo River is too deep to provide optimal spawning conditions for the June sucker or to protect it from carp and other predators. So they are proposing to reroute the river and recreate a delta and marsh-like conditions that will give the endangered species a fighting chance.

While this is but one example, it is illustrative of a larger problem – the ESA too often trumps economic considerations, property rights and people’s personal pain. In Provo, some are asking, “Aren’t people more important than fish?”

Evidently not.

And the same is true of prairie dogs, the gray wolf, the desert tortoise and other species protected under the ESA – often at great expense to taxpayers and inconvenience to property owners in Utah and throughout the West.

To protect the June sucker, for example, the government is paying fishermen to eradicate carp from Utah Lake – carp the federal government put there in the first place in the 1880s to promote the fish as a food source. Thus far, 7 million pounds have been removed at 20 cents a pound and there’s an estimated 40 million or more pounds to go, for a total cost of nearly $10 million.

And there’s more where that came from. Taxpayer money has been spent on a hatchery to breed and stock Utah Lake with 300,000 June suckers. More has been expended to restore Hobble Creek habitat for spawning and to acquire water rights – all for a minor species many deem too inconsequential for all that expense and disruption.

No wonder our nation is more than $15 trillion in debt.

In Iron County, prairie dogs are the problem. They are burrowing into graves, airport runways, golf courses and other public and private property. Unfortunately, local officials there are powerless to stop them because prairie dogs are listed under the ESA as a threatened species and their removal is only allowed in agricultural areas.

Despite persistent problems with the ESA, I am happy to report that we are making progress. In Provo, we are facilitating meetings with all the stakeholders and trying to find a less draconian solution to protecting the June sucker—one less burdensome to property owners.

In southern Utah, I recently joined with Iron County commissioners to host a tour by top officials with the Interior Department and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. They came at my request to see firsthand the damage being done by prairie dogs and since that visit, the agency has been developing an administrative fix, which I expect will be implemented by mid-summer.

I have led in the successful fight to delist the gray wolf in northeast Utah and neighboring states. I have also been fighting to keep Mexican wolves out of Utah. I’m further working to prevent the Administration from affording ESA protection to the sage grouse, a move that could lock up even more of our state’s public lands, thereby hurting industry and funding for Utah’s public schools.

Ideally, I would like to reform the ESA. In the meantime, I will continue to work to find commonsense solutions to the ridiculous problems we face with endangered species – ones that will provide people with as much protection as fish, fowl and wild animals.

Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah

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  • Disgusted, dismayed and ashamed of Mr Hatch April 22, 2012 at 5:08 am

    There are plenty of people and farms on this planet. We have a moral and ethical duty to be good stewards of all of Gods creations. This attitude of complacency and refusal to compromise from people who will happily spend billions of dollars of taxpayer money to drop bombs on civilians in far off countries represents total moral collapse in this nation. We are a rich and prosperous nation, and this attitude is simply unsustainable, we need to share this earth with all of Gods creations, and if it costs us money to repair environmental damage that WE have inflicted on the earth we should be more careful about screwing it up in the first place. This, Mr Hatch is called being responsible for our actions, and to protect our natural heritage for our children, a value you clearly despise in favor of greed and profit. Shame on you and on Earthday too!

  • tq2 April 22, 2012 at 7:47 am

    Hatch, if you were a true conservative, and if you sought a solution that truly makes sense, instead of patching and fixing and tinkering with this ESA to try and make a palatable; you would be working to repeal this absurd nonsense.

    And to get the true picture of the ridiculous nature of the ESA, you must multiply this nonsense going on in Utah by hundreds, because it is occurring in every state. And this ESA is a contradiction of values. Environmentalists who go to war to argue that nature must be left alone, also go to war for the right to intervene. And the ESA defines “endangered” in a way that says if a species exists in only one place, that by definition is endangered. It doesn’t matter that it is not threatened, that man is not harming this species, or that any other condition exists to cause concern, the fact that it exists in only one location–that makes it endangered. Ok, I’m kind of dumb, but I’m not that dumb. Repeal this atrocity, there are no sensible fixes. Stand up and be counted as a conservative Hatch, and throw out this nonsense.

  • Bob Brister April 24, 2012 at 10:20 am

    Why does Hatch hate wildlife so much? Why shouldn’t conservatives be conservationists?

  • Joann Haddock April 24, 2012 at 10:56 am

    Rather than be dismayed by the ESA (a very well-intentioned act, perhaps flawed as anything in the human world is) maybe we need to be more dismayed with corporations and individuals who simply destroy bits of the world for no better reason than money. There wouldn’t need to be any laws if people would just do the RIGHT THING–in every aspect of life. With our dominion comes a tremendous responsiblity to build up, not knock down, the earth and ALL its inhabitants. I live by the idea that if I am good enough to meet my Maker, He will not ask about my finances, He will ask “What true good did you do in the world”. I can happily and proudly answer, I saved as many prairie dogs as a relocator and as many other animals others had thrown out, abused. Oh, I also help the homeless as well.

    Please have a bigger view of the world and stop demonizing the earth and laws made to help it be here many more millenium.

  • Lynn Anderson April 24, 2012 at 11:51 am

    Year in & year out, I wish the people asking the idiotic question “Aren’t people more important than animals?” could figure out hat being killed is worse than being inconvenienced. If Orrin Hatch isn’t smart enough to figure out that it’s wrong to endanger the survival of a species, just because our species was stupid enough to put carp where they didn’t belong, and now are too selfish to fix the problem the carp caused. Does Hatch ever say “No wonder we’re $15 trillion in debt” about the military’s errors & waste, which cost thousands of times the amount of money this costs? Writing this op ed to praise people for being more valuable than fish, is pandering to the very stupid.

  • Renee Owens November 17, 2013 at 3:11 pm

    I didn’t know it was possible to print so many myths, untruths, and all-out wholly unsupported claims as Mr. Hatch does in this one article. If you want to believe the unsupported, completely inaccurate, and nonsensical rhetoric states ad nausea about the ESA, then you will mindlessly embrace this fairytale. And obviously that is who he is appealing to, people who are not critical thinkers, fact checkers, or even interested in the enlightened truth, or why that truth matters to the average person, be they a landowner, developer, or lover of clean air and clean water.

    I am an independent environmental consultant and ESA practitioner who has worked with, and for, developers for 20 years, and I can tell you one would have to dig really hard to find a modicum of truth in anything Hatch says about the ESA. The eminent domain bit is utter hooey, as are the rest of his statements used to scare and anger you, but not to correctly inform.

    If he were just some guy next door venting his opinion, that would be one thing. But this guy is a Senator, and has the responsibility of searching for truth, yet he eschews it as easily as he spews the same old, weary, tiresome myth of how the ESA prioritizes fish – or whatever animal of the day is mentioned – over people. As if the government ever had that kind of power, don’t be ridiculous. Do you people really think Hatch is out for your interests? Clearly you aren’t asking the important questions.

    If you’d like some actual, factual information on the ESA, read something from Scientific American:

    If instead you want to rail against fictional issues, be angry at mythical and upsetting scenarios, and let men like this completely manipulate you, go ahead and keep voting for him.

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