By U.S. Congressman Steve Pearce
Two decades ago, the Mexican spotted owl was listed under the Endangered Species Act. New Mexicans weren't told then what that would mean, only that the listing was necessary to save the species. The details would be sorted out later. The Fish and Wildlife Service claimed logging was the problem, and implemented a series of restrictions on logging. Twenty years later, more than 100 timber mills have closed their doors. A once-thriving industry vanished--and the jobs with it.
Earlier this year, Fish and Wildlife reevaluated their decision. They casually mentioned that logging wasn't the problem after all. In fact, they said we need to bring logging back, because forests have grown so overcrowded that the owl is now at risk because of fires! Our state lost hundreds of good paying, middle class jobs, all because of one reckless decision.
In 2010, it was the same story all over again. Fish and Wildlife spent a year and a half pushing to list the dunes sagebrush lizard as an endangered species. But this time, the people of New Mexico spoke up. We remembered the jobs we'd already lost, and we couldn't afford to lose more. So we questioned their science, we held them accountable. And we were proven right.
Six months ago, the Department of the Interior ruled that "landmark" voluntary conservation efforts by landowners protect the lizard better than the Endangered Species Act. These homegrown agreements were praised as "a great example" for other conservation efforts. Top officials at both the Department of the Interior and Fish and Wildlife proclaimed what New Mexicans have known all along: sound solutions that engage local voices can protect both the species and our jobs, without the need for a listing.
It was a great victory for conservation and for New Mexico's economy: our farming, ranching, and energy production continue today, while lizard populations remain safe. For a moment, Washington seemed to have learned from past mistakes. It seemed to understand that listening and bringing everyone to the table works much better than heavy-handed regulations driven by politics and special interests.
But late last year, while everyone's attention was elsewhere, Fish and Wildlife quietly announced plans to list another species, the lesser prairie chicken, under the Endangered Species Act. Shockingly, the chicken is already protected--under the exact same types of agreements that protect the lizard!
Either the Administration has forgotten its promises to New Mexicans, or it's more interested in power and politics than the solutions it praised only months ago.
Power and politics often trump common sense and problem-solving in Washington. Fish and Wildlife faces constant legal pressure from powerful, well-funded interest groups, like the Center for Biological Diversity and WildEarth Guardians, which have made careers out of suing the government and living on your tax dollars. These groups openly sue for the listings of thousands of species at a time--not to protect the species, but because the Endangered Species Act is a good way to make money and keep a stranglehold on an agency that's supposed to be accountable to you.
The push to list the lesser prairie chicken comes straight from a lawsuit filed by the Center for Biological Diversity. It was chosen not because of science, but to attack our energy production, farming, and ranching here in southern New Mexico.
New Mexicans are honest, hardworking people. If you tell us we can save our jobs and businesses by investing our own time, money, and efforts to protect a species, we'll do it! And we have done it, very successfully, for years. We've done it so well that top officials at federal agencies have praised our achievements. We've held up our end of the bargain. But now, Washington is going back on its word.
The Endangered Species Act is one of the most heavy-handed, unbending laws we have. As we've already seen, it gives bureaucrats the power to destroy entire economies with hardly a second thought. And these bureaucrats have already proven that they can make decades-long, job-killing mistakes--mistakes that cost the middle class dearly. In fact, Dan Ashe, Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, told me in a closed door meeting that his agency is not required to take into account the impact that a listing has on your job. This is unacceptable.
New Mexico already has one of the weakest economies in the nation. In the last three years, every single state has gained more jobs than we have. This is no time to be playing games with our already fragile economy. Our jobs, our livelihoods, our communities, and our culture are endangered.
Enough is enough. Tell Washington to stop playing political games with our jobs. Tell Washington to stand by its promises, and drop its plans to list the lesser prairie chicken.