Why did the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service waste over 100 million taxpayer dollars to save the Preble's meadow jumping mouse from extinction when the little critters are alive and well from Colorado to Alaska?
The Pacific Legal Foundation, a conservative public interest law firm based in California, has asked FWS that question by filing a delisting petition to remove the mouse from the "threatened" list of the Endangered Species Act. New scientific findings confirmed that the mouse, far from being "threatened," is not meaningfully different from other populations of jumping mice with healthy populations in a huge swath of Western North America.
PLF senior attorney Damien Schiff said in a statement that the Preble's mouse is a small rodent that FWS bureaucrats listed as a "threatened" subspecies in 1998, based on a 1950s study and an unpublished 1997 review.
FWS scientists welcomed the familiar mouse as a "subspecies" since each new slice of an ordinary species into "subspecies" or "populations" counts as something new to regulate that comes with a budget increase and expanded regulatory power.
The Endangered Species Act does not regulate species but habitat, which is land-use control. The Fish and Wildlife Service uses its power to separate land from use. The Preble's mouse listing prohibited public and private landowners from disturbing its "habitat" in any way, costing landowners about $18 million each year, which ignited endless rancorous debates. Fish and Wildlife would not relent.
But now there is an Achilles heel. The previous mouse studies focused narrowly on populations in the Eastern Front Range regions of Colorado and Wyoming. More recent studies have moved beyond that limited territory with new biogeographical techniques, more sophisticated genetic analyses and dramatically wider sampling. In 2013 the peer reviewed journal Molecular Ecology published a comprehensive analysis of North American jumping mouse populations conducted by biologists Jason L. Malaney and Joseph A. Cook. They concluded that the Preble's mouse is "part of a single lineage that is ecologically indistinct and extends to the far north."
To the victims of bogus subspecies listings, and who suffered under this one, "them's fighting words."
PLF submitted the petition on behalf of a broad coalition of agriculture, business, and sound science advocates, including: wildlife biologist Dr. Rob Roy Ramey II; Colorado Cattlemen's Association; Colorado Association of Home Builders; and Housing & Building Association of Colorado Springs; Wyoming Stock Growers Association; and the Center for Environmental Science, Accuracy & Reliability.
It's not industry attacking their problems with piles of money. Schiff told me by phone that PLF represents these petitioners free of charge, as with all of its clients.
Will the Trump Fish and Wildlife Service heed the Pacific Legal Foundation petition and remove this spurious listing? Petitioner Dr. Rob Roy Ramey is the most qualified to answer that. He's the wildlife scientist who first challenged the Preble's jumping mouse as a subspecies. He suffered Inquisition-like intimidation by bureaucrats seeking to silence him and was subsequently forced out of his job. Now that his work is vindicated, he is looking forward to settling what he calls "unfinished business."
Ramey told me, "The Fish &Wildlife Service has consistently demonstrated an inability to reverse listing decisions that they are deeply vested in, even when the data have consistently proven them wrong."
But how can that be?
Ramey said, "The FWS modus operandi on contested ESA listings typically involves three key elements: obfuscation, intimidation, and ignoring contrary evidence. And then, if it looks like they are going to lose badly, they will simply move the goalposts and call for more research. The answer is not to give the Fish and Wildlife Service more money."
Does that mean Ramey is unconcerned about endangered species? Hardly. He has risked his life to save endangered wildlife, testified before Congressional committees on ways to improve their conservation, and does elephant research in Africa. He's like a real life Indiana Jones.
Ramey's final judgment: "We need an Endangered Species Act. However, if we are ever going to make the ESA more effective and less burdensome, the federal agencies in charge of it need to do a better job at prioritizing efforts and require a businesslike accountability in the decision making. And if they can't, then we will need a legislative solution. But we need a solution."
The Pacific Legal Foundation Preble's jumping mouse delisting petition may be the beginning of that solution.
Are you listening President Trump?
Ron Arnold is executive vice president of the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise.
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