In December, the Endangered Species Act of 1973, turned 40 years old.
Most of what I have learned about species on our planet that this law is credited with rescuing, has been on PBS documentaries. I’m glad to see the peregrine falcon and the small key deer that live in south Florida have not vanished from the face of the earth.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service lists 1267 endangered or threatened animals in the world, with 645 of them in the United States. That number seems rather large, until you consider that the USFWS list of animals includes crustaceans, insects, fish and arachnids as well as reptiles, birds, worms and mammals.
For the most part, I believe we all, at some level, appreciate the birds and the wildlife that share this planet with us. But like many of you, I cringe when I hear the horror stories of farmers in California fighting to keep their land because of the presence of an endangered mouse or salamander. And with the drought in that state, it’s farmers vs. fish, as the Delta smelt is getting water that would go to farms.
Mention black prairie dog to cattlemen in Nebraska and you will learn what a nuisance these animals have become to those involved in livestock production. Mention spotted owl to those involved in the timber industry in the Pacific Northwest, and they will tell you those owls have plenty of habitat. Wolves in Yellowstone? Ask the shepherds and ranchers running livestock nearby how many lambs and calves they’ve lost to this endangered species.
Many years ago, I interviewed then Secretary of Agriculture Clayton Yeutter, and questioned him about what seemed at the time to be a very important agricultural issue. 20 years have since passed, and the “critical issue” has long since been forgotten, but a comment he made stays with me to this day. The former secretary said “Cyndi, this issue is of great importance to all of us involved in agriculture, but it is a cup of tea compared to the plight of the spotted owl. Our issue will long be forgotten and the spotted owl will long be remembered in America’s history.”
Most farmers are good stewards. They leave the land in good condition when they go, do not set out to destroy the wildlife. Many have incorporated some sort of wildlife conservation plan on the farm with or without a government payment to justify the investment.
I like having plentiful game on my land so that we might enjoy turkey, quail, deer and rabbit hunting, and we have worked to provide food and cover for those birds that are currently few in number. We must remember though, in nature, when there is plentiful game, it will be hunted. We are not the only hunters here. It might be coyotes or bobcat, wolves or mountain lions. Many predators follow the game we so desire. Those predators will also take down a calf, lamb or foal.
Let us learn from our fellow farmers and ranchers in other areas of the United States of America. Maintain a dialogue with the conservation community and lawmakers at the local, state and national level. Show them what you are doing on your farm to be animal friendly.