Biased information and the Endangered Species Act
November 16, 2006
By Frank H. Murkowski, Governor of Alaska
The Washington Times - Today's Editorial
I've spent a quarter century in the Senate and as governor working for enlightened development of Alaska's tremendous resources: oil and gas, other minerals, vast forests, abundant fish and wildlife and land suitable for agriculture. However, responsible use of resources is too often opposed by environmentalists. Information is often selectively presented to give a biased view against development. Such information is used in a bewildering array of regulations and laws to stop legitimate resource use.
Many readers are familiar with anti-development bias on environmental issues. For example, environmentalists claim that oil and gas exploration in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, or ANWR, will harm the caribou herd. However, the Central Arctic caribou that range in and around Prudhoe Bay have increased since construction of the oil fields and the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System. The herd increased from 5,000 animals in the 1970s to 32,000 in 2002.
Simple measures, such as restricting activity during the four-to-six week calving period, could minimize most impacts on the ANWR caribou.
One of the most oppressive environmental laws is the Endangered Species Act, or ESA. The act is twisted to impede development rather than protect endangered species.
A distorted ESA is being abused and used indiscriminately. Subspecies and populations are arbitrarily defined so that almost any local population of fish or wildlife can be subject to the ESA.
In Colorado and Wyoming, inconsistent "science" was used selectively to justify endangered species consideration of an eight-inch rodent, the Preble's meadow jumping mouse, as a subjectively defined subspecies. Other examples include the northern spotted owl (which is only a subspecies) and local populations of Pacific salmon in Washington, Oregon, California and Idaho.
In Alaska, we have populations under ESA consideration including sea otters, sea lions, beluga whales and birds that may affect timber, oil, fishing and mining. But in all of these cases, the ESA is being used to address a local population of a species that is abundant across its range.
It is appropriate for the ESA to address species. It is inappropriate to tolerate the almost unlimited abuse we see when the ESA is twisted to address subspecies and populations.
The ESA exemplifies the inability -- or unwillingness -- of environmentalists to reach compromise and practice what's known as multiple-use resource management. They try to stop all development with the ESA. However, we can develop oil, harvest timber, graze cattle and manage for fish, wildlife, clean water and outdoor recreation at the same time.
These issues were focused in a letter I recently received from Dr. Matthew Cronin, who analyzes genetics of populations and subspecies at the University of Alaska. "The primary impediment to legitimate resource development is arguably public opposition," he wrote. "This would be well if the public were properly informed.
"Unfortunately the public gets a preponderance of misinformation from the media and environmental groups about impacts on fish and wildlife from timber harvest, oil development, livestock grazing and other resource uses. I believe this is facilitated by state and federal government fish and wildlife agencies and universities."
Dr. Cronin is correct. The public has not been properly informed because the media and environmental groups get much of their scientific information from agency and university fish and wildlife biologists who are largely against resource development.
Pro-development advocates are often accused of censoring scientific information that doesn't fit their agenda. On the other hand, Dr. Cronin says that his experience has been that it's often government agencies that selectively present science to thwart development.
Too often, biologists who try to apply practical multiple-use management face unwarranted opposition from their peers when they challenge the premise that development will have an unacceptable impact on fish and wildlife.
In an effort to correct this problem, I've encouraged Dr. Cronin to work with other states, utilizing land grant university scientists to consider all science to achieve resource development while preserving fish, wildlife and a clean environment. Focus on the ESA is part of this effort.
My views and those of Dr. Cronin and his colleagues will be challenged by many in the environmental and scientific communities. However, these are serious issues that warrant in-depth consideration and debate, not prejudiced criticism.
I hope scientists, resource managers and the media recognize that we share an obligation to develop the resources of America, including Alaska, for the benefit of the people. We also share an obligation to conserve resources and protect the environment.
Insisting on use of unbiased information in the Endangered Species Act will be a good start.
Copyright 2006, The Washington Times.