Shoot, shovel and shut up!

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By Marita Noon


If you find oil or natural gas on your property, the value goes up. If you find an endangered species, your land becomes virtually worthless — resulting in the half-jest, half-serious advice: “shoot, shovel and shut up.”

The Endangered Species Act (ESA) was signed into law in 1973 by President Richard Nixon to preserve, protect and recover key domestic species. Though well intentioned at the start, the ESA has since been used as a tool to hinder or block economic activity from logging and farming to mining and oil-and-gas development.

I’ve been active in the fight to prevent the listing of the sand dune lizard in the oil patch of West Texas and New Mexico’s Permian Basin — which produces about 15 percent of U.S. oil. (Thanks to conservation agreements with private industry, the lizard was not listed.) I emceed the Roswell rally to draw attention to the five-state lesser prairie chicken listing threat. 

The delta smelt—that most of us first heard of in 2009—is, once again, back in the news. 

California is facing a severe drought. A recent Wall Street Journal  article examines “How green politics has exacerbated the state’s growing shortages.” It lists water rationing, forbidden sprinkler use, and restaurants serving water by-request-only as some of the ramifications. But, the WSJ states: “Suffering the most are farmers south of the delta whose water allocations have plunged over the last two decades due to endangered-species protections.” It continues: “California’s biggest water hog is the three-inch smelt, which can divert up to one million acre-feet in a wet year. In 2008, federal regulators at the prodding of green groups restricted water exports south to protect the smelt.”

The Bakersfield Californian cites Larry Starrah, a local farmer, whose family has been “forced to let 1,000 acres of productive almond trees die this year for lack of water.” The Jan. 22 article faults the “delta smelt and other fish protected under the Endangered Species Act.” 

House Speaker John Boehner was in Bakersfield recently tout legislation that would roll back the water-limiting environmental rules. At a press conference Boehner said: “It’s nonsense that a bureaucracy would favor fish over people.” But, that is what the ESA requires. 

It is time for the ESA to be overhauled. As we’ve seen with the sand dune lizard — and hope to see with the lesser prairie chicken — there are ways to successfully assist species that are truly in danger without putting species in conflict with people.

This is the goal of a report released on Feb. 4 by the ESA Congressional Working Group. For eight months the Working Group has examined the ESA from a variety of viewpoints and angles; received input on how the ESA has worked and is being implemented and how and whether it could be updated to be more effective for both people and species. 


The author of “Energy Freedom,” Marita Noon serves as the executive director for Energy Makes America Great Inc.