Killing Endangered Species for Profit

by CHRISTOPHER BRAUCHLI

It was a bright cold day in April and the clocks were striking thirteen.

George Orwell, 1984

The only thing between a people living in a country governed by George W. Bush and contentment is a lobotomy. Words have lost all meaning.

The Healthy Forest initiative means means cutting down trees. Homeland Security means the right to spy on us. The Clean Air initiative doesn’t mean anything.

On August 28, 2003, the Environmental Protection Agency announced that 20 percent of the costs of replacing an industrial plant’s production system would be treated as routine maintenance thus avoiding the theretofore extant requirement that anti-pollution controls be installed. The new rule affects 17,000 facilities and will save utilities, oil companies and other affected industries billions of dollars they would otherwise have been required to spend to reduce pollution.

In 2001, the environmental administrator, Christie Whitman, sent a memorandum to Vice President Dick Cheney about the changes that at that time were only being proposed. She said if the administration made commitments on changing the rules: "Settlements [of existing lawsuits to enforce the rules] will likely slow down or stop. It will also be counterproductive. We will pay a terrible political price if we undercut or walk away from the enforcement cases. It will be hard to refute the charge that we are deciding not to enforce the Clean Air Act." Mr. Bush has no such trouble.

When he visited the Detroit Edison coal-burning power plant in Monroe, Michigan, he touted the EPA’s new rule saying: "It makes sense to change these regulations. It makes sense for the workplace environment, it makes sense for the protection of the workplace environment." He’s lucky he doesn’t live in that environment. According to the EPA, the Monroe plant will continue to emit 102,700 tons of sulfur dioxide until 2016. Under the old policy its emissions would have been reduced to 10,000 tons a year.

The outrageousness of Mr. Bush’s comments about the new policy, whose substance belies their truthfulness, pales when the administration’s newest proposal is examined. It is a policy that removes protection from endangered species around the world (that has been in place for almost 30 years) in order to protect endangered species around the world. On October 12, 2003 it was reported that the administration proposes to again allow hunters, circuses and the pet industry to kill, capture and/or import animals that are near extinction in some parts of the world. By doing that, says the administration, we will be protecting those species from extinction.

Under the new regulations American trophy hunters will be permitted to kill, among others, the straight-horned markhor in Pakistan, and Morelet’s crocodile, an endangered freshwater crocodile whose skin is coveted by U.S. leather importers. They will be permitted to capture the endangered Asian elephant of India and Southeast Asia who, American zoos and circuses believe, would be much happier living in this country than in their native habitat.

The proposal has been well considered. The administration has discovered that poor countries have no incentives to protect endangered species. By sending in American circuses, zoos and hunters who will pay those countries handsomely for the privilege of killing and capturing endangered species, those countries will be able to take the money and spend it on caring for whatever endangered species remain alive following the Bush sponsored plundering.

Ignoring the fact that the Act has been consistently interpreted since 1973 to prohibit exactly the kind of activities the administration will now permit, David Smith, deputy assistant secretary at the Department of Interior for Fish and Wildlife and Parks said: "I think the nature of the beast [not the endangered ones] is such that there are critics who are going to claim some kind of ulterior motive." He’s right Adam Roberts is one of those people.

Mr. Roberts is a senior research associate at the nonprofit Animal Welfare Institute, an advocacy group for endangered species. Commenting on the proposal he said: "It’s a very dangerous precedent to decide that wildlife exploitation is in the best interest of wildlife." Stating what all but someone working for Mr. Bush would consider obvious, he said: "As soon as you place a financial price on the head of wild animals, the incentive is to kill the animal or capture them. The minute people find out they can have an easier time killing, shipping and profiting from wildlife, they will do so."

The Safari Club International, by contrast, supports the new rules. It also supports Republican politicians. In the 2000 election cycle it gave politicians $274,000, 86 percent going to Republicans. This is not the only proposal made by the administration to help out endangered species.

In August the Fish and Wildlife Service proposed an exemption to the Wild Bird Conservation Act passed under the administration of George I in 1992. The exemption will allow importation of the blue fronted Amazon parrot from Argentina. The parrots sell for hundreds of dollars each. If approved, ten nesting parrots will be permitted to be harvested from five nests in every 250 acres of parrot habitat. Thanks to export tariffs, each 250 acres plot will produce $400 to $800 a year to help support the remaining parrots. The money can be used for such things as bird houses for the remaining parrots.

With a lobotomy none of the foregoing would come as a surprise. Without it, it’s worse than surprising. It’s dismaying. <Brauchli.56@post.harvard.edu>


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