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Obama’s Interior Secretary and the ESA

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A black-tailed prairie dog

This week saw more news on the endangered species front, as Vince Carroll notes in this column. Groups are pushing for the listing of the black-tailed prairie dog, and the Department of the Interior has agreed the question needs to be studied.

When the president-elect gets around to naming his Secretary of the Interior and that nominee his or her team, the die will be cast for the landowners –and a lot of the economy– of the west. Listings as threatened or endangered of widespread species like the prairie dog cause havoc in land-use and development, which means havoc in the growth of entire regions, especially those burdened with weak home-building or commercial sectors.

The president-elect promised the governors quick help in launching much needed infrastructure projects. And he has also promised the nation quick action on stimulus.

If his appointees at the DOI are eager to please the ESA activists, expect the stifling effects of new species listings to greatly impede any recovery. Landowners only dimly understand the potential for abuse of the Act, and if an activist-friendly DOI begins settling lawsuits brought by the groups with agreements to list various species like the prairie dog, the consequences could be immediate and far-reaching. Not many people pay attention to the second and third-tier appointees at DOI, but their actions (or court surrenders) have far-reaching and often devastating consequences for individuals obliged to carry large portions of the bill for the ESA’s spectacularly draconian burdens on the use of private property.

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