Species Act: Many Say It's Endangered but Benign Landowner Conflicts Called Mostly Myth: Political Fights, Real

Article excerpt

MEMBERS OF CONGRESS are zeroing in on the Endangered Species Act as if it were a troublesome varmint. But people who work with the act every day say it has caused few problems with landowners.

Politics, not endangered animals vs. property rights, is the real problem, they say.

"Most of these potential conflicts exist on the phone or on paper," says Dennis Figg, the endangered species coordinator for the Missouri Department of Conservation.

"I have personally investigated the cases that have made the most headlines nationally and found they are all largely misinformation and hype."

Figg often works with landowners to protect endangered plants like the Missouri bladderpod or animals like endangered Indiana and gray bats. Cooperation - not confrontation - is the norm, he said. Figg is on a national committee examining the conflicts blamed on the act. The committee will make recommendations to Congress on it.

He sent out questionnaires to officials in all 50 states, asking for examples of conflicts in their areas. He found most had the same experience as Missouri. Typical, he said, is the response from Texas. A state biologist there said she had been met at gunpoint when she approached a rancher with an endangered plant on his land. They talked, worked out a conservation plan, and are now friendly, if not friends.

The majority of conflicts end the same way, with the landowner and conservation agent agreeing on what's best for the rare plant or animal, Figg said.

Figures from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which administers the act, confirm Figg's claim. The service says it reviewed 2,719 cases involving a landowner and an endangered species between 1988 and 1992 and found that 98 percent of the cases resulted in amicable agreement with the service. "People are scared by what they think the government will do or can do," said Figg. "The solution to most of these problems wasn't anything more than communicating." Bats - Nature's Insecticides

A crescent moon moved into place over the Osage River near Saint Elizabeth in central Missouri recently as the first dark streaks flew out of a cave high on a limestone bluff.

The twilight sky soon filled with thousands of bats. Four biologists below watched silently, listening to the whirring sound of the bats on their feeding run.

"Wonder if they'll take a lightning bug?" one spectator pondered as an insect blinked amid the black blurs. Thwack! The light went out.

The state acquired the property years ago, to protect the site. Gray bats, a federally endangered species, use the cave to raise young.

Below the cave, voices could be heard over the river as a motorboat headed in for the night. Its passengers did not know the bat colony had made their cruise more enjoyable. A hungry bat eats up to 600 mosquitoes an hour. …