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ESA Reform Bills Fail to Address
DNA Use and Militarization

by Melissa Genson, February 19, 2015

Although the package of four House bills bundled under Doc Hastings' HR 4315 headed to the U.S. Senate would bring some transparency to the Endangered Species Act (ESA) process, they don't begin to tackle the most frightening parts of endangered species protection conducted at all levels of government.

Under the current law, ESA listings require no DNA or other scientific proof that a species is endangered -- or even if protected animals are part of the right species. Federal authorities are also allowed to ignore DNA evidence that disproves a listing. The four new bills don't address this issue.

The four bills are HR 4315, HR 4316, HR 4317, and HR 4318. HR 4315 would require the federal government to put their justification for ESA listings and regulations online. HR 4316 would require the Interior Department to report federal expenditures incurred by ESA related civil suits. HR 4317 requires the federal government to use data submitted by a state, tribal, or county government to determine an ESA listing. Lastly, HR 4318 replaces the current standard for awarding court costs and attorney fees in citizen suits, with the federal judicial code standard for awarding costs to a prevailing party.

Even more troubling than the lack of required evidence for ESA listings, is the broadly expanding military power that goes along with species protection -- including military power to protect species that have been scientifically proven to be not endangered.

Since the ESA's passage in 1973, the law's broad language has created unprecedented police state power against law-abiding citizens, with little due process or evidence required on the part of the government. State and local governments began passing their own stringent endangered species laws, requiring little or no evidence for listings, which can be even more oppressive than the federal precedent. Washington State government has come to the point of being militarized against citizens in the name of species protection.

In 2011, Thurston County, Wash. resident Chris Weaver was arrested by five armed officials from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife for having rodent traps on his property, in violation of a state listing and local ordinances for protecting the "Mazama" pocket gopher. No gophers were found in his traps. He now has a criminal record.

Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has also created unsupported "gopher habitat" maps and documents for the recent micro-listing of the Mazama pocket gopher, which can criminalize citizens using their own property, making the property virtually worthless.

There is no evidence that the gophers on Weaver's property were members of the Mazama species. The federal government has never done any DNA tests to find out if Thurston County's gophers are actually members of the faraway Mazama species, rather than the nearby Northern species. Northern pocket gophers can legally be exterminated with Strychnine, because they are so prolific and destructive.

The militarization issue is rapidly growing in significance, with the current federal push to gain control over 16.5 million acres in eleven states across the West to protect the sage grouse.

If Congress truly wants to tackle the abuse of power and the increased militarization by a growing number of government agencies, they would need to address two neglected areas.

First, Congress would need to require DNA and other physical evidence for endangered species listings. It is the standard in law enforcement.

Second, Congress has yet to address the issue of citizens, especially in rural areas who are most affected by the ESA, having a meaningful voice against the abuse of power and military encroachment in their communities, in the name of endangered species. Special voting districts, created within the borders of a habitat area, could address issues related to protected species. The voting districts would have the right to vote on whether the species would be protected in a publicly owned preserve, rather than turning their property over to armed government control, simply because their land has been declared wildlife habitat.

Melissa Genson of Watchdog Arena, Franklin Center's network of writers, bloggers, and citizen journalists.
ESA Reform Bills Fail to Address DNA Use and Militarization, February 19, 2015

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