According to Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of Law (1996) the Endangered Species Act (ESA) obligated the government to protect all animal and plant life threatened with extinction. Included in this category are endangered species, which is defined as any species "which is in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range." Also protected are threatened species, which are defined as any species "which is likely to become endangered in the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range." The wide brush of this act is creating problems for those who are granting the rights to the animals. Unlike humans, who have been granted certain unalienable rights by their creator, (U.S. Bill of Rights) animals receive the rights they enjoy from the highest species on the earth, man.
By treating the subject of animal rights as a holy grail, activist groups are creating measurable harm for citizen groups, and communities across the nation. Because the actions of the federal government are significantly impacting the lives and safety of other animals, and humans, the subject of animal rights must be adjusted. The term 'means testing', and 'economic impact' has come to be applied to government actions which could have significant impact on the rights and well-being of American citizens. As a means of self-regulation, the government is requiring that new legislation be studied before its implementation, to ensure that the descried outcome will have no unseen impact. As the 'rights' of endangered animals are beginning to impede the activities, and in some cases the economic well-being of U.S. citizens, this project recommends studying the subject, and determining a framework on which a means testing structure could be assembled to measure economic impact of proposed animal rights declarations.
Seldom does the government, or activist groups behind government legislation act on the basis of altruistic motives. For reasons that are sometimes easily discernable, and at other times lost under the momentary political crisis, those who influence government legislative behavior often have a political, or cultural agenda all their own. Such is the case regarding the ESA. By protecting the 'rights' of individual animals, entire communities are being negatively affected. In some cases, community development is put on hold at the risk of disrupting the communities economic stability do to the presence of an endangered species.
For example, in a case in Klamath Falls, OR, farmers were prohibited from irrigating their fields, because of the presence of a protected fish in the local water supply. The irrigating would not have taken all the water, nor would their annual irrigation have destroyed the habitat of the fish. The ESA was invoked none the less under the second clause which is sufficiently broad so as to include 'threatened' species, those which would likely to become endangered in the foreseeable future.
April 6, 2001 is a day which will live in infamy, a day when those in the Klamath basin project and their descendants were stripped of all irrigation water," said third-generation farmer Marshall Staunton. "They became part of history as the first Bureau (of Reclamation) irrigators to completely lose an entire irrigation water supply. How they lost the water our nation promised can be summed up in three letters: 'E.S.A.' (Endangered Species Act)." (Souza, 2001)
Many War veterans were originally invited to the Klamath basin as homesteaders to raise families and farm, and they remain on family property today. The Reclamation Act of 1902, which encouraged America's veterans to participate in a lottery drawing for land in the west, brought them to their own piece of the American dream. Lands and water were made available to homesteaders, who in turn financed the construction and operation of the water works. However, the homeowners now are holding the federal government in contempt for reneging on this agreement in 2001 when the U.S. Department of Interior announced Klamath basin growers would receive no water this year due to drought conditions, and the protection of endangered species. Federal officials chose to increase lake levels to benefit the endangered Lost River sucker and the threatened Coho salmon.
Folks are starting to cry out. We are so angry and disgusted," Staunton said. "We are in complete despair and it is probable we are all going down. There are 1,400 martyrs here who are without water" as a result of the Coho salmon, and a sucker fish's 'rights.' (Souza, 2001) Those who live along the California-Oregon border fear a lack of water will be devastating to agriculture, schools, supermarkets, hardware stores and the entire community. "This is the first time in our nation's history that the Endangered Species Act has totally decimated thousands of jobs, businesses and heritage of such as widespread area. An expected economic loss of $300-to-$400 million in the economy will make it almost impossible for this area to survive," Staunton said. (Souza, 2001)
The Cougar's Plight
Similar situations are being experiences in the west in regard to the Western mountain lion, locally called the cougar. Mountain lions, also known as pumas, are solitary creatures, and highly mobile carnivores that inhabit low densities forests and roam enormous tracts in western North America. For decades, these characteristics made the cats difficult to research. According to Hansen, (1995) cougars once laid claim to the most extensive range of any land mammal in the Western Hemisphere. They once roamed from the Canadian Yukon to the South American Straits of Magellan. They can be found from sea level to 14,765 feet and in habitats as diverse as Northwest forests, Southwest deserts, and Florida's Everglades. While they are adaptable, the cougar is not invulnerable. Decades of habitat loss by increasing land development and persecution ov the lion by hunters have reduced the lion's North American range to the 12 western states, Mexico, and a limited territory in Canada. A small remnant community of Florida panthers is also on the endangered species list, inhabiting a small area in southern Florida.
The Florida panther is now found only in South Florida, primarily in Big Cypress Swamp. The 50 to 70 remaining big cats that have been identified are threatened by inbreeding and geographic isolation that leave them vulnerable to disease, congenital defects, and natural disasters. They are ranked among the most imperiled mammals in the world. Recently, in a bold experiment, state wildlife officials introduced closely related Texas cougar females into the region, hoping to enhance the panther's genetic variability and thereby ward off, at least for now, what many biologists saw as its impending extinction. (Natural History, 1999) Still, more cats are needed in more places to insure the Florida panther's survival. Kris Thoemke, director of NWF's Everglades Project Office, says the panthers' gene pool was somewhat enriched by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's import of 10 close cougar relatives from Texas two years ago. (Bogo and Motavalli, 1999) The move was controversial, but most observers say the panther would have disappeared without such intervention.
Further clouding the panthers' picture is their location in southwest Florida, one of the hottest building markets in the country, where their most significant predator is the speeding car. Panthers typically roam an area of 150 square miles in search of prey, mainly white-tailed deer, and that habitat is fast disappearing. "It doesn't take much development to disrupt them" says Thoemke. "The panther issue goes right to the heart of efforts to control sprawl and growth. And even when there are large habitat areas, if there's not enough food, the animals can't intermingle through wildlife corridors" (Bogo and Motavalli, 1999) Floridians have put the panther on their license plates, but to date have shown little inclination to stop the growth that is endangering their future.
According to the National Wildlife Federation, "Conserving wild cats is integral to protecting the West's wildlife heritage and to saving many of the pristine wild places they call home," says Elizabeth Murdock, chief author of the report and NWF's keep the Wild Alive campaign manager. (nwf.org, online)
Although cougars are typically considered to be numerous in the West, their numbers have been significantly reduced to a population which numbers only 50% of what it used to be at the turn of the century, and to territory that is less than 1/3 of its traditional habitat. The cougar has been virtually eliminated east of the Mississippi, and its fate in the West has been threatened by increasing loss and fragmentation of contiguous habitat. Cougars in Texas, the northern Rockies and southern California, for example, had disappeared from much of their former range until federal regulations began to protect them.
Habitat loss poses the single biggest threat to cougars, which require significant areas of wild land to establish home ranges and permit their young to disperse. A cougar's home range typically varies from 25 to 500 square miles for males, and up to 400 square miles for females. With the ever advancing human development of land for housing and businesses, the loss of traditional habitat is synonymous…