Don’t Let Rural Jobs in CA become Extinct

If a tree can’t be cut down on rural property because of unjustified federal rules, and no one’s around to hear the owner’s frustrated grumbles, do they make a sound?

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The question occurred when I read the headline on a magazine item about the regulatory manacles imposed on landowners by the U.S. Endangered Species Act: “Boring but important”

It’s true that the minutiae of environmental restrictions on farms, forests and undeveloped land is not the sexiest of subjects, even for many conservative/libertarian activists who are passionate about opposing the advance of big government.

But attention needs to be paid. If we want California to become a land of promise again, we need to liberate not just the over-encumbered entrepreneur, the overburdened employer, and the overtaxed working men and women in our cities and suburbs, but also the enterprises rooted in the soil — the forestry, agriculture, timber and land-development industries that were the foundation of the state’s prosperity from the beginning.

– Item: Record snowfalls blanketed the Sierras this year — but farmers in the agricultural Central Valley were still squeezed on water supplies for much of the winter.

The reason: federal “fish before people” policies under the Endangered Species Act. Over the past two years, a misguided scheme to revive a declining three-inch fish, the Delta smelt, caused draconian cutbacks in pumping from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta into the San Joaquin Valley and Southern California. Hundreds of thousands of farm acres were fallowed and thousands of jobs went down the drain.

Although the media now tell us “the water crisis is over,” that’s only half right. If the drought of snow and rain has ended (for now), the regulatory crisis continues. In explaining why water users still aren’t getting their full allocations, the California Department of Water Resources fingers the feds: a May 2 DWR press release said that a 100% allocation is “difficult to achieve even in wet years due to pumping restrictions” for ESA-protected fish.

Those regulations flow from “sloppy science,” Fresno-based Federal Judge Oliver Wanger found. No wonder that the smelt population has continued to evaporate. All that was achieved was to turn green fields brown in one of the most fertile agricultural regions in the world and a historic backbone of California’s economy. Look for more of the same in future dry years, if the feds’ don’t flush their scorched-earth formula for fish protection.

Item: In 2006, a federally commissioned study concluded that the valley elderberry longhorn beetle no longer needed ESA coverage, and land-use limits could be lifted on private property up and down Central California, from Redding to Bakersfield. Five years later, the feds still haven’t acted; the beetle remains designated as “threatened” – flouting their own scientific findings.

The victims include businessman and environmentalist Bob Slobe, who wants to put up a small, environmentally sensitive office park in Sacramento County. His land has been labeled “critical habitat” for the beetle, so he can’t disturb a bush or tree without paying a massive sum for “mitigation.”

Slobe spends his time and resources shooing away and cleaning up after transients who camp on the land that he’s forbidden from putting to productive use.

The beetle regulations also bug flood-control agencies. They can’t easily fix or build levees where elderberry bushes are present. Levee improvements in Yuba County were delayed for months last year, and the current cost to mitigate for one bush along a Sacramento levy exceeds $160,000.

Says Rep. Dan Lungren: “There is no failure to thrive on the part of the beetle, only a failure to act on the part of [federal officials]. We could not afford it five years ago, and we certainly cannot afford it now.”

Item: Federal officials insist on keeping the California gnatcatcher on the ESA protected status – even though the small, insect-eating bird can be shown to be part of a species that flourishes in Mexico.

The listing ropes off nearly 200,000 acres in San Diego, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, Los Angeles, and Ventura Counties. The Fish and Wildlife Service admits that the economic hit from these restrictions is nearly $1 billion – quite a price to safeguard a species that isn’t in peril.

All these useless regulations offer a reminder: The recovery route for the Golden State has to run through Washington, D.C. Unless the federal government adopts a more balanced, people-friendly – and scientifically defensible – approach to environmental protection, California’s rural economy – and probably the state’s larger economy as a result – will linger on the endangered list.

Harold Johnson is an attorney for the Pacific Legal Foundation

Comments

  1. Rogene Reynolds says

    Some fact-checking is in order regarding Mr. Johnson’s claims.
    “Hundreds of thousands of farm acres were fallowed…” not because of Delta pumping restrictions, but because these acres were salt-laden and unproductive.
    See: http://www.scribd.com/doc/56909617/Mendota-Evidence-that-soil-and-groundwater-salinization-is-the-predominant-cause-of-land-fallowing.
    California Research Associates, Deidre Des Jardins.

    …and thousands of jobs went down the drain.”
    See: forecast.pacific.edu/water-jobs/PACIFIC-BFC-Water-Jobs.pdf
    Dr. Jeff Michaels, University Of the Pacific
    Collapse of the real estate bubble is the main reason ALL valley unemployment is up.

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