Barbed Wire by Doug Cooper: The pit bull
September 6, 2013
The Endangered Species Act (ESA) is often referred to as the pit bull of federal law. The ESA seems to trump all other federal laws. The reason for the unusual force behind the ESA is not at all obvious. While on the surface the law has support from those that believe saving species from extinction is a valid mission for the federal government – that does not explain the strange power of the ESA. Originally enacted in 1973, the law has never been significantly amended in the past 40 years.
What is curious is that the hidden benefits of the ESA to many groups lies below the radar. For those that support the ever growing federal bureaucracy, the ESA enormously increases the power of the federal government over the states. Anyone who has ever heard a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service employee happily explain how his agency will destroy the economy and tax base of a State for a bird or large predator, has no doubt who is holding the whip. Beyond that many "green" groups see the ESA as a way to regulate land use on a national scale. Many species are used to slow down development or inhibit activities the "greens" dislike such as logging. The pit bull also has stealth to its advantage. It is much easier to claim that the goal is to save the Spotted Owl rather than to try to get a new law passed that would outlaw cutting timber. Even to accomplish these unwritten goals requires armies of lawyers, all well aware of the golden legislation that delivers their bounty.
As you follow the support for the ESA down through the governmental food chain you arrive at the consultants and biologists that also make their living from the law. On one side, are the people that help private industry comply with the law and on the other side are the people that get grants for studies that then link on to those that work for state wildlife agencies and universities. These biologists attend meetings, count critters, and write proposals in vast amounts. So the Endangered Species Act can be seen as a kind of cottage industry – filled with roustabouts, suppliers and distributors functioning at many levels, producing regulations, lawsuits, studies and government jobs – while the unwanted by-products of the ESA of increased cost, waste and bankruptcy are shoveled onto the private sector. For those who know where to scratch the pit bull, it's a good business.