When America Went Animal Crackers. (Environment)

Article excerpt

Cultural anthropologists of the distant future undoubtedly will be struck by many oddities when they look back at America as it was at the dawning of the 21st century. Perhaps none will be as puzzling as this nation's obsession with animals both wild and domestic, and the bizarre lengths to which our governments go in managing them. Perhaps our progeny will applaud us for the effort; more likely, they'll look back on us as we do animal-worshipping ancient Egypt or conclude that we had too much time on our hands and somehow collectively lost our minds.

Man long has meddled with nature and vainly attempted to manage it, but rarely have the results of that effort been so singularly idiotic and bizarre. Take, for example, the following news items:

* In New Jersey, two activists for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals who collided with a deer on the New Jersey Turnpike are suing the state for failing to manage an exploding deer population they describe as a threat to public safety. Typically, the group blamed the collision on hunters rather than the hunted, asserting that the collision came "as a result of [a New Jersey] deer-management program which includes, in certain circumstances, an affirmative effort to increase deer populations," presumably as a service to sportsmen.

* In California, a federal judge recently ordered a review of a critical-habitat designation for two allegedly endangered species -- the San Diego fairy shrimp and California gnatcatcher -- because the economic impact of setting aside 545,000 acres of prime Southern California real estate for protection of the two creatures (whether they could be found there or not) had not been fully considered by the government. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) had previously asserted the costs of habitat protections (one of which halted the building of 14,000 homes) would be minimal; others have put the price tag at $5.5 billion over 20 years.

* In Washington, the Department of the Interior's inspector general (IG) found that FWS biologists who planted and submitted false hair samples of Canada lynx for laboratory analysis broke no laws. They did, however, demonstrate "a pattern of bad judgment," according to IG Earl Devaney, who criticized the agency for not meting out "more meaningful punishment" to the biologists, displaying what he called "a cultural bias against holding employees accountable for their behavior." Devaney said that paying bonuses to the individuals involved in the bio-fraud "also highlights FWS' excessively liberal award policy and practice."

* In Utah, three men were killed when a helicopter hired by the state to transport dozens of moose from populated areas to more remote locales clipped a power line and crashed through the ice of a frozen reservoir.

* In Minnesota and elsewhere, state officials trying to cope with exploding numbers of federally protected Canada geese have sought permission from FWS to thin bird populations by destroying nests, increasing hunting and conducting aggressive efforts to trap and transplant the birds, which are damaging crops and fouling lakes, lawns, beaches and golf courses with droppings. …