California Farmers Hit at Habitat Laws Criminal Charges under Endangered Species Law Prompt Demonstrations
Danielle Starkey, Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor
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 supply.
"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 cited.
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. …