News from the Front #41  

Memo for Gale Norton:  Cutting the Gordian Knot of Northwest Natural Resource Management

The American Land Rights Association is already forming a committee in defense of your nomination.  Here in the Pacific Northwest, people are angry enough to march in support of it, if that's what you need.  My poster would say "Let Gale Give The Land Back."  

As the new Secretary of the Interior, it would make good management sense for you have the last word on federal policy for management of federal lands in the Pacific Northwest.  You don't.  

A small division of the Department of Commerce, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), now exerts practical control over most public and private land use decisions in the Pacific Northwest, control achieved through astounding misinterpretations of the Endangered Species Act.  (While the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service is charged with administering the Endangered Species Act for most species, NMFS has jurisdiction over anadromous fish.) 

Zealots at NMFS have listed nearly every run of salmon and steelhead in the Pacific Northwest as threatened or endangered.  The listings are premised upon outright fraud.  There are no endangered species of salmon or steelhead; zealots interpret the word "species" to mean the salmon in a single lake, or in thirty rivers, or whatever grouping is convenient to shut down use of natural resources.  NMFS' own computer models show little or no risk of extinction, even for many wild stocks, considered in isolation.  

There are many rivers where wild salmon have declined, but that was mostly the product of overfishing, a conscious choice to replace wild fish with hatchery fish, the introduction or rise of competing species, and changes in climate.  We don't need to misuse the Endangered Species Act to fix those problems.   Competent harvest and hatchery management (which is endangered in the Pacific Northwest) can put lots of salmon in the rivers.  

You know that section 7 of the Endangered Species Act is only supposed to stop federal projects if they will "reduce appreciably the likelihood of both the survival and recovery" of listed animals.  The biological opinions now coming out of NMFS say that federal projects can't go forward unless they guarantee salmon in the rivers.   Federal zealots think no one can develop anything within 200 feet of a "stream", and a "streams" doesn't even have to have water in them.  The zealots have even darkened the pages of the Federal Register with the notion that NMFS may regulate "individual decisions about energy consumption for heating, travel and other purposes" and "individual maintenance of residences or gardens" because of "cumulative effects" on salmon.  

It's not about the salmon; it's about control.  Zealots at NMFS now control nearly every natural resource decision that "might affect" salmon. And because salmon migrate nearly everywhere in the Pacific Northwest, the Endangered Species Act listings have resulted in the the most rapid and far-reaching federal takeover since Reconstruction.  

And zealots at many other agencies are involved as well.  Even the EPA has gotten into the act.  One of the first nasty surprises the Bush Administration may get in the Pacific Northwest is a bad result in federal court because EPA has forced the Justice Department to pull its punches in a Clean Water Act case the environmentalists have brought against the Snake River Dams.

The Clinton Administration formed a Cabinet-level Pacific Salmon Task Force to sort out the inter-agency food fights, backed by a multi-agency memorandum of agreement.  You need to get control of that Task Force as quickly as you can.  

The Clinton Administration has labored eight years to tie a Gordian knot of pseudo-scientific studies, crooked computer models and bogus findings to lock the Bush Administration into continuing its crazy policies.  While the roadless area grab has gotten more attention, the Administration just released a 1200-page biological opinion on hydropower operations in the Pacific Northwest that turns the Bonneville Power Administration into a piggy bank for every hare-brained environmentalist notion imaginable, and forces BPA to waste thousands of megawatts of power, even as the lights go out.

By de-listing these salmon species, you can untie Clinton's Gordian knot.  Doing that, like any attempt to introduce common sense into Pacific Northwest salmon policy, will produce clouds of lawsuits.  A phalanx of "conservation biologists" will emerge to offer apocalyptic prognostications.  And you'll face something quite close to kangaroo courts when you attempt to defend the decisions.  You won't get the Chevron deference that the Clinton Administration has used to ride environmental law right off the rails.  

In the long run, you can win, because the law is on your side.  The law doesn't tell you or NMFS which species should be listed or not.  It is a discretionary choice.  All you have to do is carefully consider the statutory factors, explain in nauseating detail why the Clinton Administration  findings were bogus, and be prepared to fight.  More resources will have to be spent defending  changes in policy in court than making them, but a lot of resources will be freed up by de-listings. Maybe some of these conservation biologists can be shipped out in a federal extension program and actually learn how to grow some fish.

You'll have to pay real close attention to your Solicitor's office, because you need activists who can put the train back on the track.  And you should make sure the Bush Administration gets a replacement to take over the Environmental and Natural Resource Division of the Justice Department who is up for the fight.  (You might even consider trying to get the IRS to make collateral attacks on the environmentalists; they ran significant lying ad campaigns against Bush in the Pacific Northwest, and they ought to lose their tax-exempt status for doing it.)  

The judges will be inventive, and you may have to lose so badly and so many times that the judges try to grab control of your decisions and NMFS' decisions before the Supreme Court finally intervenes to restore the rule of law to the Ninth Circuit.  But that's why we all voted for Bush out here.  To get the rule of law restored.  The future of this country depends on it.

* * *

I don't know Gale Norton.  Maybe one of you does.  If so, please get this memo to her.  I'd like to help.  I'd even take the job of Northwest Regional Administrator of NMFS if it would help get the job done.

James Buchal, January 11, 2000

You have permission to reprint this article, and are encouraged to do so. The sooner people figure out what's going on, the quicker we'll have more fish in the rivers.

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