Do you remember just a few years back when they improved Highway 145, the Dolores highway, and widened it for turning lanes at the junction with Road P? Everything was going well and suddenly it stopped and they pulled out without finishing.
What happened? The report was that it was getting close to nesting season for the Southwest willow flycatcher and there was some of their habitat on the side of the highway, so the construction equipment might disturb nesting if there happened to be any flycatchers in the area. Are you serious? Well, it seems that in 1995 the bird was claimed to be endangered by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service under the Endangered Species Act, so you can’t do anything that might possibly disturb them. So trucks and equipment working slowly on the road are more disturbing than the trucks that would previously go speeding by and engaging their Jake brakes at that curve? Of course the question is, were there ever any flycatchers there in the first place? Didn’t matter, their perceived habitat was there, which had previously been created by irrigation works and road ditches. After supposed nesting season, the construction continued at additional cost.
So what is my point? Last year, 2018, our local area suffered with three major wildfires – the 416, Burro and the Plateau – which all combined burned nearly 70,000 acres of forested critical watersheds. Setting aside the finger-pointing rhetoric, the results have been distinct damaging changes in forest canopy, soils, erosion, flooding potential, insect infestation potential, wildlife habitat, forage, viewscape, and recreation potential, to name a few.
The ending of active forest management began back in the ’70s with a flurry of environmental laws that had little or no scientific basis. One of those laws has been used most frequently to prevent healthy management of the forests and range lands of the state. That would be the Endangered Species Act of 1973, a very clever hoax. What is so egregious about it is it has no scientific basis, but is based solely on what is not known. Take the Southwest willow flycatcher, for example, they do not actually know how many there are or how many there used to be or where or if you can find one, so they do not really know if they are endangered or not. But they say they are endangered, so who can dispute it? Under the ESA, you must not disturb the “habitat” that some think they must have to survive. These fires damaged and changed significant habitat for all wildlife, including any threatened and endangered species. Wildlife will adapt to natural changes and they will adapt to man’s actions as well.
The whole concept of endangered species is questionable. Even the World Wildlife Fund acknowledges that “extinction” of species has been and is a natural evolutionary process. They make a guess that IF there are 100 million different species of life and IF the extinction rate is .01 percent per year then 10,000 species go extinct each year. They just “don’t know” any of it! It is estimated by some that about 15,000 “new species” are identified each year and that 86 percent of all species on earth are yet to be discovered, not including what might be in the oceans. Are the 10,000 that go extinct making room for the 15,000 new species being “discovered or created”? Are they now endangered since they only found the one or two? How long have they existed before they found them? They just don’t know what they claim to know! There is a saying, “just because someone says something is so, does not make it so.” It just could be they have a nefarious ulterior motive and agenda.
We are now finding out that there is a very real need to restore the health, active management and use of the forest and range lands of the state. We are faced with the problem of dealing with the ESA, and other similar restrictive laws, in securing project approval for management action. It takes an average of three years of studies and plans to secure approval for an action. Then it is still subject to litigation from so-called environmental groups who claim the study did not adequately consider potential impacts on some endangered mouse, bug, bird or weed.
Here in Colorado, any project by the Forest Service must consider 74 species on the state Threatened & Endangered list, plus an additional 26 species on the federal list that says could possibly be found in Colorado. They look for perceived habitat possibly existing for things like big-eared bats, northern pocket gopher, Southwest willow flycatcher, New Mexican jumping mouse, gray wolf, etc.! This list can keep growing as they find new species they didn’t know about. I wonder, why do all these species still exist here after all the clearing, logging, ranching, farming, housing, roads, mining, ski runs and wildfires over the past 143 years? It very well could be because of all those actions that created better and more diverse habitat for wildlife, thus increasing both the numbers and biological diversity of species that have been able to continue existing and flourishing due to man and in spite of the natural evolution extinction process.
What is really “endangered”? The health of the public lands of the state and the local economy that is dependent upon those lands and resources! This continues to be threatened by those seeking to end resource management using the Endangered Species Act as evidenced by the push to drastically increase and protect gray wolves in western Colorado, further endangering forest and watershed health and local economies.
Dexter Gill is a retired forest manager who worked for private industry, three Western state forestry agencies, and the Navajo Nation forestry department. He writes from Lewis, Colo.