Cyndi's Two Cents

Fifty years of Endangered Species Act


The Endangered Species Act turned fifty years old late last month. Signed by President Nixon in 1973, the legislation was expansive and controversial. Saving all species from extinction seemed like the right thing to do, but at what cost? Is our government equipped to answer that question? For fifty years, the citizenry of this country has been trying to figure that out.

To say this legislation has been divisive is an understatement.

Most of us that live in rural America appreciate the birds and the wildlife that share this planet with us. However, talk to someone who has had to deal with black vultures preying on newborn livestock or attacked a cow that is ill or giving birth. Talk to those who farm and along the Missouri River and you will learn they feel less important to the U.S. Government than the pallid sturgeon, least tern and piping plover. As for the wolves released in Yellowstone, ask the shepherds and ranchers running livestock nearby how many lambs and calves they have lost to this endangered species. Federal protection of wolves led to increased populations in northern Minnesota, which led to populations moving into the neighboring state of Wisconsin.

What species comes to mind when you consider The Endangered Species Act? For me, it is wolves, bald eagles, and the spotted owl.

In the early 1990’s, protection of the spotted owl in the Pacific Northwest became a national debate, as news outlets across the country covered the controversy between protecting the forest habitat of the owl and the jobs of loggers in that region. During that time, I interviewed then-Secretary of Agriculture Clayton Yeutter about a now-forgotten issue that at the time seemed to be important. I clearly remember a comment the former secretary made.

He said “Cyndi, this issue is of great importance to all of us involved in agriculture, but it is a cup of tea compared to the plight of the spotted owl. Our issue will long be forgotten but the spotted owl will long be remembered in America’s history.”

Today, the greatest threat to the survival of the northern spotted owl is competition from the barred owl and secondly, habitat loss primarily from wildfires.

Most farmers are good stewards. Many of you have incorporated a wildlife conservation plan on your farm or ranch. For some, doing so is more appealing because of the government payment that comes with it.

I like having plentiful game on my land so that we might enjoy turkey, quail, deer, and rabbit hunting, and we have worked to provide food and cover for those birds that are currently few in number. In nature, where there is plentiful game, it will be hunted, and we are not the only hunters. Coyotes, bobcats, or predatory birds like black vultures are hunters. Many of the predators following the game we so desire will also take down a calf or a lamb.

It is up to us to maintain a dialogue with the conservation “community” and lawmakers at the local, state, and national level. Show them what you are doing on your farm to be “wildlife-friendly” and if you are dissatisfied with their actions, remember that your vote counts.

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