CNS: A case filed recently in a Texas federal district court, General Land Office of the State of Texas v. U.S. Department of the Interior, takes the government to task for misusing the federal Endangered Species Act, known as the ESA. The case involves a protected species known as the golden-cheeked warbler, which is prevalent throughout Central Texas, where the plaintiff, the Texas General Land Office, is a major property owner. While focusing on protecting the warbler, the federal government has ignored the quality of the surrounding human environment and unduly interfered with the Texas General Land Office’s rights to use its property.
Under current practice, the Fish and Wildlife Service of the U.S. Interior Department designates species as either “endangered” or “threatened” based solely upon a head count of the number of individual critters of any given species observed in the environment, without considering the economic or other impacts of protecting the species. The United States Supreme Court famously set the legal standard in the 1970s by ruling that species must be protected “whatever the cost.” That’s not a typo. And it’s no joke.
Once a species is listed by the government, the ESA makes it unlawful to “take” the species, which is defined as any action to “harass, harm, pursue, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect, or attempt to engage in any such conduct.” While “kill” and “trap” are readily understandable terms, the terms “harass” and “harm” are not. What does it mean to “harass” a turtle? What actions can “harm” a squirrel? Those are ontological standards not legal ones. more