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National Association of Mining Districts
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In the Hands of Environmental Extremists and Elitist Bureaucrats, the Well-Intended Endangered Species Act has Gone Loco


by Don Fife

San Bernardino, CA. —In 1960, this country had 30,000 federal laws and regulations on the books, and we called America "The land of the free and home of the brave." By 1990, we had more than 200,000 federal laws and regulations. We have become "the land of the regulated and the home of litigation." There are so many laws that, if you obey one, you may be breaking another. If a person clears a firebreak around his home, he may be found guilty of "murdering" endangered weeds, and he may have to pay the government a mitigation fee to buy a weed sanctuary. Of course, it is illegal not to clear firebreaks around one's home, ranch or business.

Environmental Extortion

One can usually "take" (kill) as many ESA-listed species as he can pay for in cash or land to environmentalists or government agencies to buy preserves for the species. In Mexico, they call this mordida, the "little bite," or payoff. In the United States, being more politically correct, we call it environmental mitigation. It is never little.

Even though the U.S. Constitution forbids the quartering of troops on one's property, except during time of war, under the ESA a person can be forced to host "endangered" beetles, cockroaches, flies, rats, spiders, birds,and weeds on his property indefinitely.

Riverside County, CA, is the home of an ESA-listed subspecies of rat, the Stephens Kangaroo Rat. If one wanted to build on private property designated rat habitat, one had to pay the government amounts that have run up to $1,900 an acre, so it could buy "rat homes" somewhere else. These rats carry diseases: rabies, hanta virus, and bubonic and pneumonic plagues that are fatal to humans. Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt's U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (U.S.F.W.S.) reportedly will spend more than $100 million buying rat homes. The homeless humans, who live under freeway bridges in Riverside County should be so lucky!

Neighboring San Bernardino County has the endangered Delhi Sand Fly. The new county medical center there was required by U.S.F.W.S. to pay $10 million in environmental mitigation to purchase a fly sanctuary for one to eight flies! This is equivalent to the cost of more than 150,000 human visits to the emergency room! The scientist paid to study the fly reported, "During 43 hours of observation, I sighted eight flies, but I can't be sure if it was eight different flies, or the same fly seen eight times."

San Bernardino County sued the USFWS, and discovered that the agency's own internal reports predicted the fly could not be saved, and would be extinct by the year 2000. Yet it is still a federal felony to swat this fly, punishable by five years in a federal penitentiary and up to a $100,000 fine. The county lost in court, and now the U.S.F.W.S. is demanding $220 million for additional "fly sanctuaries" to "mitigate" new community projects!

Endangered Weeds

In 1996, the San Bernardino National Forest spent 300,000 tax dollars protecting allegedly endangered weeds. In 1998 Interior Secretary Babbitt's U.S.F.W.S. proposed spending $780,000 tax dollars to save these "endangered" weeds. These weeds tend to thrive in areas cleared of brush or forest, such as firebreaks, roads, quarries, timber harvest, or in areas subjected to wild land fire. However the U.S. Forest Service and Fish and Wildlife Service will not let miners plant the same weeds in their reclaimed quarries to "save the species." Of course, if there were too many of these weeds and they were delisted, some U.S.F.W.S. employees would be out of a job. This may have some bearing on the reason for the government personnel's clubbing to death of listed endangered salmon from hatcheries in Oregon.

Under San Bernardino National Forest Supervisor Gene Zimmerman, U.S.F.S. botanists may have unintentionally reduced the weed habitat by failing to maintain firebreaks, failing to keep brush cleared, and by suspending lumber harvesting for decades, thus reducing open space available for weeds.

In September 1999, this policy of allowing uncontrolled fuel buildup resulted in the 65,000 acre Willow Fire, the largest wildland fire in the history of the SBNF. This fire destroyed 50 homes, and tens or even hundreds of millions dollars in timber and threatened the lives of 70,000 local residents. Forest Service botanists Scott Eliason and Robin Butler arrived at the fire lines telling the firemen they should stop dragging fire hoses or bulldozing fire breaks in the "endangered weeds." Eliason is quoted in the L.A. Times (Sept. 2, p. A25), "Three different endangered plant species, found only in these mountains, may be jeopardized - not by the fire itself, but by being crushed by the fire fighters' hoses and bulldozers."

Supervisor Zimmerman has proposed a 41,000 acre weed and toad sanctuary which threatens to shut down the regional source of limestone for cement, construction materials, plastics, paints, chemical, pharmaceuticals, and food processing. This is a potential $2 billion per year impact on the California economy. Such sanctuaries typically result in road and campground closures and even the denial of public access resulting in a human exclusion zone.

To add insult to injury, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has just declared another 500,000 acres of prime southern California real estate as critical habitat for the San Diego fairy shrimp and California gnatcatcher (sometimes known as the "California jobsnatcher"). According to a study funded by California toll road builders and others, the cost of this listing could exceed $5.5 billion.


Several years ago, my family cleared some property we own in the San Bernardino National Forest of brush and a few small trees. The cleared area was invaded by weeds, one of which has the cute name, milkvetch, the scientific name Astragalus albens, and which has now been placed on the E.S.A. list. In reviewing the scientific literature I found that it is really a poisonous, noxious weed called locoweed. It is hazardous to browsing animals and even to humans. If eaten, it can make one delusional, blind, and cause birth defects or even death. These weeds are alleged to be restricted to the San Bernardino National Forest, although the scientific literature suggests some may be found all over western North America; and birds who eat the weed seeds have spread these species up and down the Pacific and Rocky Mountain flyways from Mexico to Canada.

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management recently incensed the local off-road community by closing another 48,000 acres of Southern California's premier off-road vehicle park at the Alogones Sand Dunes near Glamis in Imperial County. This was done in order to "protect" another allegedly endangered locoweed, astragalus magdalenae var. piersonii (Pierson's milkvetch). As it turns out, BLM and US Fish and Wildlife are trying to "save" this locoweed at the dunes; but their sister agency, the Bureau of Indian Affairs has a team of specialists eradicating this noxious weed on and around all Indian Reservations in Southern California.

At Fort Irwin, the US Army's California armored training facility, expansion has been held up by the listing of 50 Lane Mountain milkvetch, another variety of the noxious locoweed, Astragalus jaegerianus. BLM and US Fish and Wildlife botanists claimed that there were only 50 of these weed known in the world. When the army sent botanists to study the area, they found more than 5,000 of these plants in a few hours. These weeds thrive in areas disturbed by such activities as military training.

Locoweeds A. albens and A. magdalenae, are both noxious weeds which ranchers, farmers, and local farm bureaus have been trying to eradicate for the last century. In many localities, it is against the law to knowingly propagate locoweed on one's property; now it is a federal crime to remove it.

Enforcement of the Endangered Species Act has gone loco, and the country's elitist, "biocentric" bureaucrats have added new meaning to the old saying, "The inmates are in charge of the asylum."

DON FIFE is a Southern California-based, natural science/resource consultant who holds B.S. and M.S. degrees in paleontology-stratigraphy and geology from San Diego State University. He has been an environmental geologist working in academia, government, and private practice for more than 20 years. From 1981 to 1989, Fife served four secretaries of the interior as appointee/advisor for geology, energy and minerals for the 25 million-acre California Desert Conservation Area. Contact: Don Fife at

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