There is a quiet war being waged in Washington right now. While many are preoccupied with budget fights and the next presidential election, the Administration is slowly brewing up a concoction that if implemented as planned, will give the federal government control of millions of acres of private property in this nation.
Members of TSCRA have long been concerned about the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and its plan to regulate everything on a rancher’s land from stock ponds and drainage ditches to the dust stirred up by our cattle. But now it seems that another federal agency is setting its target on the ranching community.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), an agency within the Department of Interior, has proposed to add the dunes sagebrush lizard to its list of endangered species included in the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The lizard lives in the western part of the United States including New Mexico and some parts of West Texas where ranching and oil production takes place.
This is a major issue for the Texas beef industry because if the lizard is listed, much of the ranching land within the habitat range could be off limits to cattle.
It seems like a simple issue-the lizard is endangered of becoming extinct so the government must do whatever it takes to stop that from happening. But that’s not really what is going on.
While the ESA may have had good intentions, it has simply become another vehicle used by the federal government to control what you can and can’t do on your land.
Less than 1 percent of the land in West Texas was surveyed to determine that the lizard is endangered, and what’s more, there is no sound evidence supporting the claim that the lizard population has decreased. The data provided is not strong enough to merit a listing. FWS will likely list the lizard anyways even without sound scientific proof. Common sense would tell you that before the government implements new regulations that will cost huge losses in the ranching and energy industries, they should at least have strong proof that there is a problem.
It’s also important to note that the ESA allows just about anyone to petition for a species to be listed as endangered, and it allows the public to sue the agency if petitions are not responded to within a certain time frame. Today, the ESA protects more than 1,300 species in the U.S.; however, in the past few years the agency has been bombarded with petitions and lawsuits from environmental groups.
Over the past four years the agency has received more than 1,200 petitions. That’s almost as many species that have been listed since the law was created 38 years ago. Texas has 90 species that are currently listed and another 19 waiting to be on the list, including the lizard. The lizard was petitioned to be listed by the Center for Biological Diversity, who stated that they will refuse to let the dunes sagebrush lizard be another casualty of cattle grazing and the Bush energy policies.
Ranchers aren’t opposed to helping endangered species, and, in fact, many ranchers have implemented pasture management and conservation programs to promote healthy habitats for wildlife and cattle. However, Americans need to ask themselves if moving forward with policies based on lax science is worth severely damaging an industry that provides them with food. This is the price that will be paid if environmental groups and the federal government move forward with their plans.
Ranchers work to protect the environment, but we can’t continue to do this if our land is controlled by someone else. And that seems to be the goal of the federal government. First our water, then our air, and now our land through unscientific and inconclusive regulatory decisions made by those who believe the federal government should have control over everything we own.
The lizard is just one example of many proposed endangered species throughout the state, most of which will have a negative effect on the cattle industry. TSCRA will continue to work against these and any other regulations that would stifle the cattle industry and ultimately endanger the vitality of our nation’s food supply.
Joe Parker, Jr. is a third generation rancher from Clay County, Texas. He is president of the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association. He is also chairman of the board and president of the First National Bank of Byers.