One of the basic principles of environmental stewardship is that the people closest to a problem are likely to understand it best. Yes, there might be exceptions when experts from outside can come to understand it better, but what really happens in those instances is that the outsiders get up close. If they don’t, they won’t.
A great illustration of this is the unintended consequences of federal regulations meant to protect sage grouse, an allegedly endangered species in some of the American west. Brian Seasholes and Todd Gaziano have a great piece over at National Review discussing that. Here’s an excerpt:
… even with the best of intentions, federal, one-size-fits-all regulation that interferes with more-effective state and private wildlife conservation efforts can cause real harm. That’s true for the greater sage grouse, a chicken-size bird that is found on 172 million acres in eleven western states. Federal sage-grouse plans issued in 2015 both hurt the sage grouse and threaten thousands of productive jobs tied to almost 73 million acres of federal land in the West. Killing those federal rules will help the grouse.
For an on-the-ground view of these issues, consider the case of Jack Farris, a third-generation rancher in Garfield County, Colo., who grazes cattle on federal land and on private land he owns and leases. The Farris family has a long tradition of environmental stewardship, including controlling noxious weeds and hauling water to remote troughs to lure cattle away from environmentally sensitive streams.
Now, however, as part of the federal sage-grouse plan for Colorado, Jack Farris would have to reduce the number of cattle he can graze by 50 percent, which he can’t afford. “If they cut my cattle by 50 percent, I might be out of business,” Jack told us. Garfield County officials, in objecting to the federal sage-grouse plan for Colorado, observed what could happen if the plan forced ranchers like Jack Farris off the land:
“The unintended consequences of this action include driving more ranchers out of business, which results in subdivision of ranchland, which increases fire danger, noxious weeds, predators, non-native vegetation, and other factors that could result in harm to existing sage grouse populations.”
Private landowners are key to sage-grouse conservation because they own almost all of the wetland habitat the species depends on, and they are by far the largest number of grouse conservationists. If the goal is sage-grouse conservation, alienating ranchers and driving them off the land is the worst thing to do. “How do you conserve grouse that split their time between private and public lands?” Patrick Donnelly, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist, asked in a federal Sage Grouse Initiative publication. “With 81% of sparse summer habitat in private ownership, sage grouse success is inextricably linked to ranching and farming in the West.”
The federal sage-grouse plans threaten numerous jobs other than ranching and unintentionally harm the sage grouse in the process. Fortunately, there are several potential fixes.