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The endangered species racket

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Lawyers, not lizards, benefit most

Contact: Jerry Patterson
EDITORIAL — September 10, 2013

Austin — Of all the outlandish claims I’ve read on the Viewpoints page of the Austin American-Statesman, this statement by the Center for Biological Diversity’s Collette Adkins Giese really strains all credulity. 

“In most cases critical habitat designation has no impact on private property owners,” she said, apparently with a straight face, in her Sept. 3 contribution. 

Really? I don’t think anyone with property in the Texas Hill Country, home of the Golden Cheeked Warbler, would buy that. Or anyone who has ever tried to build a home or grow a business over the recharge zone of the Edwards Aquifer, home to a blind salamander. An endangered species listing for the sand dune lizard or lesser prairie chicken — which both live in the booming West Texas oil patch — would have national implications. 

The truth is, the endangered species preservation process has become a racket, and the lawyers who have figured it out are the biggest beneficiaries. Not the lizards or salamanders or lesser prairie chickens. 

Here’s how the racket works.  Radical environmentalists hire lawyers.  These lawyers load up the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service with hundreds of petitions to list plants or animals as endangered.  As a matter of law, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has just 12 months to do the science to see if the species are actually endangered. 

This worked fine when federal biologists had just a few dozen species a year to research. But then some environmental attorneys realized they could pile on with hundreds of petitions at once and jam up the system. When the U.S. Fish and Wildlife couldn’t keep up — by design — they were in violation of federal law. 

The environmental zealots then sue and the federal government knuckles under and settles.  As a part of the settlement, the environmentalists and their lawyers get a tidy sum of taxpayer dollars, and the species gets put on the list.  Somebody gets rich, but private property owners and entire industries are left to deal with the mess this racket leaves behind.

Feeding our tax dollars into such a litigation machine simply isn’t good public policy.  

From 2007 to 2011, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service gave $680,492 in tax money to the Wild Earth Guardians, according to congressional testimony. During that same time, the Wild Earth Guardians sued U.S. Fish and Wildlife 76 times, including the lawsuit that triggered the proposal to list the dunes sagebrush lizard. 

In the last two years, the Center for Biological Diversity fleeced the taxpayer to the tune of $704,770 suing the federal government, and have another $1.5 million in pending legal fees from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  As part of the multi-state settlement that speeds up protection decisions for 779 plants and animals they received $128,000 in legal fees and another $195,000 for cases that were dropped. 

This isn’t about biology or science. This is a racket that we are paying for without saving one species. 

“A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of the people,” U.S. Marine Major General Smedley Butler famously said. “Only a small “inside” group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few, at the expense of the very many.”


JERRY PATTERSON was re-elected to a third term as Texas Land Commissioner in 2010 and is responsible for managing state assets, investments and mineral rights worth billions of dollars on behalf of the schoolchildren of Texas. He is a retired U.S. Marine, Vietnam veteran and former state senator.


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