Lemon Line: One mouse and $10M later | VailDaily.com

Lemon Line: One mouse and $10M later

Heather Lemon
Vail CO, Colorado

The Preble jumping mouse is to continue to be listed as an endangered species on the Front Range in Colorado, while it was delisted in Wyoming in a published proposed ruling Nov. 1 by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. When an endangered species listing/delisting makes the front page of newspapers I get curious about the process. So, 1,000-plus pages of Federal Register later, I cannot estimate the number of lawyers, scientists, academics, biologists, politicians, taxonomy (is it a mouse or not, etc), habitat, and other experts it took to make a proposed ruling. So far, the Preble jumping mouse, for this most recent announcement, has occupied nine years of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service time, 67 peer-review reports, three special rules, two petitions, one federal lawsuit and the current proposed 140-page ruling ” which invites further public comment, open public hearings, (lawsuits) and further peer review until June 2008.

I wonder how many bottles of water, kilowatts of electricity, and gallons of oil were consumed in arriving at this proposed conclusion? Do we have a carbon footprint for the listing process? Legal costs alone for this nine-year case would be in excess of $10 million.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is responsible for 97 million acres of land, 548 national wildlife refuges, and thousands of small wetlands. There are 200,000 known species in the USA ” “this does not include any data on protists (sic), bacteria, or viruses.” (Oh my!) One thousand species are protected under the Endangered Species Act as are 300 subspecies, all of which must be protected. Between 14,000 to 35,000 species are imperiled, including in no particular order, 6 percent of butterflies, 32 percent of grasshoppers, 22 percent of freshwater shrimp, 22 percent of mayflies, and 48 percent of fresh water mussels. These dire statistics do not count the “nightmare” of attempting to catalog the imperiled fungi (19 percent), and we cannot even begin to document the “dangers to the mosses, liverworts, and hornworts.”

Environmentalists point to the abysmal record of the Bush administration on listing endangered species, having only listed 10 per year as compared to Bill Clinton’s stellar record of 65 per year. Using Clinton’s rate, assuming no more species are added to the imperiled list, and assuming the Preble mouse as a norm (actually fewer lawsuits and less rulings than many), it will only take us 538 years to complete the listing process. Further, without adjustment for 538 years of inflation, it will only cost whatever 35,000 times $10 million equals.

There is no question we need to protect our environment. I question, however, the huge costs in real dollars, time and energy to accomplish such a lengthy process. It looks to me like a make-work project for lawyers into perpetuity.

So what does it mean to be “green”? Is it narrow special interest (yes, there are special interests groups outside of oil and big business) promoting a specific environmental agenda, whether it be an endangered species, global warming, forests, or acid rain? Or is being “green” adopting a responsible, pro-active globally environmentally sound viewpoint that balances longterm human needs (eradicating poverty and improving health) with sustainable resources? How many children’s lives could have been saved by providing clean water from the dollars spent on legal fees for the listing of the Preble jumping mouse?

On the micro level, we need to educate our children on the complex issues surrounding the creation of a sustainable model for economic development. Earthforce.org establishes training programs for middle school and high school on protecting our watersheds, and the interaction between human growth and our ecological resources. Why not establish an Earthforce program here in Eagle County? Treehugger.com gives practical suggestions on lifestyle changes. One kilogram of meat takes 155 liters of water to produce so eating a pound of meat less a week saves more water than not taking a shower for a year.

On the macro level we need to focus on critical policy decisions that implement incentives for green programs, water conservation, alternative energy solutions without creating another Endangered Species Act boondoggle of lawyers and experts. It costs the states and counties more to comply with the Endangered Species Act than to implement their own more effective recovery programs. Wyoming sued the U.S. government to delist, and won.

Just think, if we do not do something about the way we try to regulate green reform, the next bowl of wild mussels you order from Frites might pay a lawyer for the next 10 years.

Heather Lemon of Eagle-Vail writes a biweekly column for the Vail Daily. She can be reached at lemonvail@aol.com.

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