FARMERS in California's fertile heartland have stoutly endured
drought, Medfly infestations, and the public's shifting tastes. Now
they're being forced to allow wildlife biologists to inspect their
land for endangered species habitat or face losing their water
"The ramifications are potentially enormous," says Carolyn
Richardson of the California Farm Bureau Federation. "The result
of the survey probably will be to designate certain portions as
endangered species habitat," she says, with the result that they
will be placed off-limits or have other restrictions on their use.
This is seen, she says, as a threat to take from farmers the use of
their land by taking from them the water to farm it.
To the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, which made the
unprecedented demand to survey the land as a condition for renewing
federal water contracts with the US Bureau of Reclamation, it's an
efficient way to make a comprehensive ground survey of endangered
species habitat in the San Joaquin Valley.
"The Bureau of Reclamation has been delivering water to the
Central Valley for over 40 years, and this is the first time
there's been a close look at the effects of irrigation on the
habitats in the Valley," says Chris Eacock, natural resource
specialist with the Bureau. "We want to get an inventory of what's
left of the endangered species habitat and to preserve it."
Change in enforcement
The Endangered Species Act was passed in 1973, but farmers have
rarely been caught in its reach. In the past few years, however,
California farmers and ranchers have observed a distinct change in
the enforcement mood. In addition to survey letters sent to farmers
last summer, criminal charges of violating the act have been
brought against three farmers in the San Joaquin Valley in the past
few months. In the previous 20 years, only a handful have been
In the most recent case, armed federal agents arrested Kern
County farmer Taung-Ming Lin, charging that he disced land he
allegedly knew to be the home of three endangered species: the San
Joaquin Valley kit fox, the blunt-nosed leopard lizard, and the
Tipton kangaroo rat. Mr. Lin could face up to three years in jail
and $300,000 in fines. The case has rallied farmers, about 2,000 of
whom are expected to attend a demonstration in Fresno, Calif., on
Aug. 29, the date of Lin's next court appearance.
Another farmer convicted earlier this year of criminal violation
of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) was forced to turn over 50 of
his 160 acres in Tulare County to the Fish and Wildlife Service and
was assessed a $5,000 fine.
"If the Endangered Species Act is for everybody, why put it
just on the backs of the property owners to pay the costs of
mitigation?" asks Loron Hodge, founder of the Bakersfield
Coalition for Private Property Rights.
Lin, a Taiwanese immigrant who requires a Mandarin interpreter
in court appearances, didn't know that his land was home to any
endangered species, says David Rudnick, Lin's attorney. …