Planet Gore


I have long been critical of the progressive-era ideal of the scientific (and therefore, supposedly non-biased, non-political) management of the economy in general, and of natural resources in particular. The view that certain things — including wildlife and wildlands — were too important to the well-being of the nation to be left to the vagaries and seeming randomness of a market that “no one” controlled and “no one” (meaning one person or group of persons) really understood. Progressives continue to believe such things should be put under the control and management of experts, bureaucrats with no political axe to grind who are accountable to no external special interests — who are unswayed by the siren song of the voting booth or the lure of filthy lucre.  

Public-choice economics has exposed the ideal of the selfless bureaucrat working only for the public weal as the myth that it was. I, among many others, have detailed specific instances of the failure of government’s “scientific management” of natural resources. For instance, my study Protecting the Environment Through the Ownership Society: Part II details the terrible environmental consequences of the federal government’s gross mismangement — thanks to perverse incentives — of the nation’s national parks, forests, and ocean fisheries.

Still, I am even more disquieted when Congress is directly involved in “managing” wildlife to the detriment of that wildlife. On July 29, 2009, federal lawmakers — led by George Miller (D., Calif.) and Sen. Diane Feinstein (D., Calif.) — introduced a bill that would ban the killing of wolves in Alaska with the aid of small aircraft (helicopters and airplanes). 

Marching blindly to the tune of animal-rights extremists — and ignoring the judgment of professional biologists and the wishes (as expressed through referendum specifically keeping the act legal) of the majority of Alaskans who actually have to live with the wolves and suffer directly form the consequences of excess predation — Congress wants to exert its will over the state. 

Let’s be clear, this is not about hunting — no one argues that it is a sport — it is culling, a conservation tool used in the lower 48 states to control other predators like coyotes. It is undertaken either by state biologists or persons liscensed by the state to specifically reduce wolf populations — and thus predation — in certain areas where those predators are having a detrimental effect on wildlife (primarily moose and caribou) and the native subsistence hunters who depend on them for food. It is not especailly inhumane — indeed, it often results in quicker death than through normal hunting, trapping, or poisoning. There are good biological reasons for arial shooting, and no good biological reasons to halt it. Its not pretty, but it is a valuable conservation tool.

In introducing the bill, Miller made two gross mistatements of fact (we call them lies where I’m from). First, that the Alaska wolf-culling program ignores federal law. Quite the contrary: the 1972 Federal Airborne Hunting Act — a law that anyone who cares about federalism and the proper division of power between the federal and state governments would probably argue should never have been passed — .specifically allows state employees or people licensed by them to shoot wildlife from aircraft to protect, “land, water, wildlife, livestock, domesticated animals, human life or crops.” That’s a pretty broad exception, and federal courts have repeatedly ruled that most Alaskan wolf-shooting programs meet those conditions. Second, Miller claimed that the culling program ignored the objections of Alaskans. But in 2008, Alaskans rejected a referendum funded by animal-rights groups from outside the state that would have banned the practice. A majority of Alaskan’s sided with science over emotion.

It is perhaps not surprising — hypocritical but not surprising — that this bill’s lead authors and sponsors are from California. That state’s Washington representatives have never evidenced any restraint in acting on their belief that what’s good for California is good for the rest of the nation — and have been more than willing to  impose their views on the nation through legislation and regulation.
Hypocritically, California is fiercely defensive of its own perogative’s to manage its wildlife without federal intervention. When some federal biologists suggested that California’s  ban on mountain-lion hunting might have to be modified in order to prevent an expanded cougar population from driving the California Big Horn Sheep toward extinction in certain areas, California legislators — both federal and state — were outraged, and the plan was shelved. Indeed, wildlife management — except in the case where international treaties or the Endangered Species Act (or other similar laws) are in force — is properly a state matter. As it happens, Alaska’s wolves are not endangered, nor are they sea mammals, nor migratory — the usual preconditions required for federal intervention in a state’s management efforts; so, a fortiori, the federal government (and Californians) should butt out and let the experts do their jobs. I’m certain Mr. Miller wouldn’t like it if Texas representives tried to get the Federal government to allow mountain-lion hunting on federal lands in California.

The same coastal-elite meddling is in evidence in the case of global warming. Earlier in the week, NCPA chairman Governor Pete DuPont penned an eye-opening column concerning the Waxman-Markey climate monstrosity that passed the U.S. House. I had been previously been unaware of the fact that “of America’s 50 state delegations in the House, 28 voted no and 22 aye, and one quarter of the 219 majority votes came from New York and California. Most of America’s states and communities didn’t much like the bill.” What’s interesting here is that Californians Pelosi and Waxman rammed this bill through the House, making it another example of California trying to force its concerns to the top of the nation’s agenda.
If the Senate functions as intended, this bill should be dead in the water. The founding father’s idea was that, with two senators from each state, states with smaller populations could band together to thwart democracy’s mob tendency and overcome the votes of legislators from states with large populations when the narrow interests of those populations did not coincide with the wider interests of people in the majority of the states. In this case, the Waxman-Markey energy tax should fail to garner the 50 votes necessary for passage, much less the 60 votes need to avoid a filibuster; based on the vote in the House, it should receive 56 no votes, 44 yes. If only senators still adhere to the idea that they were sent to Washington to represent the interest of their states rather than their own personal aggrandizement. 

H. Sterling Burnett is a senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis, a nonpartisan, nonprofit research and education institute in Dallas, Texas. While he works ...


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