ANCHORAGE, Alaska - Three conservation groups sued the federal government Wednesday to block development and protect a rare loon that breeds in Alaska's National Petroleum Reserve.Interesting story but both sides are not telling the truth here.
The groups claim yellow-billed loons are threatened by industrialization in the 23 million-acre reserve, which covers much of Alaska's western North Slope.
"The yellow-billed loon is one of the rarest and most vulnerable birds in the United States," said Andrea Treece, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. "If the loon is to survive in a warming Arctic, we need to protect its critical habitat, not open it up for oil development."
First of all, Andrea Treece mentions that "critical habitat" for the Yellow-billed Loon needs to be protected from oil development. Yo, Andrea, critical habitat is established by the Department of the Interior AFTER a species is listed. The Yellow-billed Loon is not listed so there can be no "critical habitat" to be protected from oil development or any other kind of development.
The second fallacy in this story is the comment that there was not enough money in FY 2007 to conduct the status review. What an absolute crock! There certainly is enough money for the endangered species program to pay the airfare and per diem for biologists from Alaska to spend a month on a detail in the Washington Office, why isn't there money to conduct status reviews? There is enough money to pay for biologists from Alaska to come to Washington to give hour-long seminars on monitoring biodiversity in the Arctic. Why can't that money be used for status reviews?
There is enough money to pay for a biologist in Alaska and one in the Washington Office to do a "job swap" for a month as part of a training program. Money was made available for those two people to fly to opposite cities and then sit in a hotel for a month and extortionate per diem rates. If money can be found for that, why can't money be found for status reviews?
There is enough money to move every person and every office on each of the 8 floors of the Fish and Wildlife Service's office building in Ballston to new and different offices in the same building (New Era Moving Company should have its corporate offices in the Fish and Wildlife Service building because of all the musical offices they are paid to move). If there is sufficient money to pay for moving everyone around in a building, isn't there enough money to pay for a status review?
What about the entirely pathetic bonuses paid to each member of the Directorate (to the tune of $10,000 minimum each) at the end of each fiscal year? There is something like 20 or so members of the agency Directorate. If we knocked off paying each of them an unnecessary "bonus" for doing their job that would free up $200,000 a year for status reviews. And those 20 or so members of the Directorate have quarterly face-to-face meetings around the country. What about the airfare and per diem needed to fly everyone everywhere? Couldnt that money be used for status reviews instead of accumulating frequent flier miles for people making $140,000 a year or more each?
Then there is the Director's contingency fund. Each year the Director of the Fish and Wildlife Service sets aside 1 percent of the agency's appropriated budget for contingencies like paying off law suits etc. The agency's appropriated budget was a little over $1 billion in FY 2007. One percent of that is $10,000,000 that usually sits around looking for a place to be spent at the end of the fiscal year. Couldn't that money be spent to do status reviews?
Saying there is "no money" to do what the law requires is pure and simple bullshit.
The truly aggrevating thing about this effort by the Center for Biological Diversity and others is that they are using the Endangered Species Act to try to stop development rather than using the Endangered Species Act for its intended purpose - to protect and recover species on the brink. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists in the Sacramento Field office in the early 1990s tried to stop a development project by claiming that a group of Yellow-billed Cuckoos living along a segment of river were a distinct population. Claiming that they were and trying to list the bird as a "population" would have gone a long way toward altering the proposed development project. Instead of using biological fact they tried to get this non-population population listed. It didn't work.
Apparently the groups involved in suing Interior and the Fish and Wildlife Service have determined that the Yellow-billed Loon is their keystone species for the National Petroleum Area - Alaska, and they will do whatever above and below board effort they can concoct to try to stop or alter the planned development there.
Don't get me wrong. I'm as opposed to developing the Arctic and just about everything else as the next tree hugger. But when its done it should be done based on fact not emotion, and it should be done by using legislation as it was intended to be used. That is quite likely not the case here.