Of all the examples of federal overreach, it is difficult to find a more egregious one than the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Few understand this better than Utahns, for whom the expression a “fine kettle of fish” is not just an idiom but an everyday reality.
A case in point is the June sucker, a rare species that is native only to Utah Lake. It is listed as endangered under the ESA, which means federal agencies are obligated to try and save it.
Unfortunately, the plan they have hatched to do it – the Provo River Delta Restoration Project – calls for exercising eminent domain to seize a combined 700 acres from roughly a dozen property owners who have used and been responsible stewards of the land for generations.
No matter, some bureaucrats and environmentalists say, the lower 1.5 mile-stretch of the Provo River is too deep to provide optimal spawning conditions for the June sucker or to protect it from carp and other predators. So they are proposing to reroute the river and recreate a delta and marsh-like conditions that will give the endangered species a fighting chance.
While this is but one example, it is illustrative of a larger problem – the ESA too often trumps economic considerations, property rights and people’s personal pain. In Provo, some are asking, “Aren’t people more important than fish?”
And the same is true of prairie dogs, the gray wolf, the desert tortoise and other species protected under the ESA – often at great expense to taxpayers and inconvenience to property owners in Utah and throughout the West.
To protect the June sucker, for example, the government is paying fishermen to eradicate carp from Utah Lake – carp the federal government put there in the first place in the 1880s to promote the fish as a food source. Thus far, 7 million pounds have been removed at 20 cents a pound and there’s an estimated 40 million or more pounds to go, for a total cost of nearly $10 million.
And there’s more where that came from. Taxpayer money has been spent on a hatchery to breed and stock Utah Lake with 300,000 June suckers. More has been expended to restore Hobble Creek habitat for spawning and to acquire water rights – all for a minor species many deem too inconsequential for all that expense and disruption.
No wonder our nation is more than $15 trillion in debt.
In Iron County, prairie dogs are the problem. They are burrowing into graves, airport runways, golf courses and other public and private property. Unfortunately, local officials there are powerless to stop them because prairie dogs are listed under the ESA as a threatened species and their removal is only allowed in agricultural areas.
Despite persistent problems with the ESA, I am happy to report that we are making progress. In Provo, we are facilitating meetings with all the stakeholders and trying to find a less draconian solution to protecting the June sucker—one less burdensome to property owners.
In southern Utah, I recently joined with Iron County commissioners to host a tour by top officials with the Interior Department and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. They came at my request to see firsthand the damage being done by prairie dogs and since that visit, the agency has been developing an administrative fix, which I expect will be implemented by mid-summer.
I have led in the successful fight to delist the gray wolf in northeast Utah and neighboring states. I have also been fighting to keep Mexican wolves out of Utah. I’m further working to prevent the Administration from affording ESA protection to the sage grouse, a move that could lock up even more of our state’s public lands, thereby hurting industry and funding for Utah’s public schools.
Ideally, I would like to reform the ESA. In the meantime, I will continue to work to find commonsense solutions to the ridiculous problems we face with endangered species – ones that will provide people with as much protection as fish, fowl and wild animals.
Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah