Category Archives: Fish & wildlife

Protecting Prairie Dogs

A Utah district court has ruled that the Endangered Species Act has exceeded Congress’ authority to regulate private landowners. In a case involving the Utah prairie dog, which was listed as a threatened species in 1973, the court said that since prairie dogs were involved in interstate commerce, the federal government had no Constitutional authority to regulate them.

Ironically, the main threat to the Utah prairie dog before it was listed was none other than the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, which had the dual job of protecting endangered species and endangered pestiferous species. For decades, the Fish & Wildlife Service had poisoned prairie dogs throughout the West, saying they were bad for farmers and ranchers.

This poisoning continued even after the agency declared the black-footed ferret to be “the most endangered mammal in North America.” As it happens, black-footed ferrets get 99 percent of their food by eating prairie dogs, as well as make their homes in former prairie dog dens, but this didn’t stop the agency from poisoning prairie dogs.

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We Have the Technology

A recent issue of the New York Times Magazine suggests that the technology for recreating species that have gone extinct in the last few thousand years will soon be available if it is not already. Scientists have already attempted to clone an extinct European wild goat known as a bucardo, and while the results were not successful they were clearly moving in the right direction.

Passenger pigeons in their native habitat, an Iowa woodland, from a diorama in the Denver Museum of Science and Nature. The background to this diorama was painted by Charles Waldo Love. The Flickr photo is by Jessica Lamirand; click image for a larger view.

Species that have been extinct for millions of years, such as dinosaurs, are beyond our reach. But the Times argues that recovery of such species as the passenger pigeon, which once numbered in the billions, and the woolly mammoth should both be possible in the very near future.

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Protecting Rhinos

Black rhinos have reportedly been extirpated from Mozambique, and the loss is partly blamed on park rangers who were hired to protect them but who earned more money helping poachers. Supposedly, “conservationists are trying anything and everything to put a stop to” such poaching, including using “surveillance drones and hidden sensors, to monitor . . . human activity in reserves.”

Black rhinos in Kenya. Flickr photo by Gary MacFadyen.

Maybe, however, they haven’t tried everything. Rhinos are a difficult case because so few are left, but in general, African wildlife is doing best in countries with secure property rights. Unfortunately, Mozambique is not one of those countries. Someone may think they own land, but the country has few of the institutions needed for them to prove it. If you can’t prove you own land, think how hard it must be to prove you own wildlife.

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The Wildlife Service (Extermination Service, That Is)

A little-known agency in the Department of Agriculture is an out-of-control destroyer of wildlife, reports investigative journalist Tom Knudson in a lengthy series of articles in the Sacramento Bee. The agency, which calls itself the Wildlife Service, kills hundreds of thousands of animals each year. Thousands of non-target animals, ranging from endangered species to people’s pets, are killed by mistake, and in at least some cases the agency’s response is to shoot, shovel, and shut up.

The sad fact is that this has been going on for many years. Back in 1995, the Antiplanner wrote an in-depth audit of this agency, which was then known as “Animal Damage Control.” Prior to about 1985, this program was part of the Fish & Wildlife Service, but Congress moved it to Agriculture under the not-entirely wrong notion that FWS didn’t really have its heart in indiscriminately killing wildlife.

The so-called Wildlife Service provides an excellent example of why the left should re-examine its notion that “government is good.” This program was created a century ago, yet there was little reason then and less now for the federal government to be involved in wildlife control. At least a few species have come close to extinction thanks to this program, and it should be shut down immediately. Congratulations to Knudson and the Bee for publishing these articles.


Planning Fish to Extinction

Soon after (and possibly even before) Columbus sailed to the New World, Portuguese and Basque fishing boats were catching cod in the Grand Banks, the shallow seas around Newfoundland. By the 1960s, fishers were removing as many as 800,000 tons of cod from the Grand Banks each year. But in 1992, this seemingly inexhaustable fishery collapsed, forcing Canada to declare a moratorium to allow the fish to recover. No such recovery has taken place, and cod remain nearly non-existent in the area.

Part of the problem was that the Canadian government allowed the use of bottom trawlers that scraped the sea floor and destroyed the habitat vital for young cod. But a new book, Useless Arithmetic: Why Environmental Scientists Can’t Predict the Future, places even more of the blame on the goverment planners in the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

The Atlantic Dawn, the world’s largest fishing trawler, can catch enough fish on one voyage to produce 18 million meals.

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