By Rich Kozlovich
Property owners face a daunting task against government agents and activists if there should be some type of endangered species of plant or animal on their property. Robert J. Smith wrote that these agents “routinely prevent use of their lands or property, including such activities as harvesting trees, planting crops, grazing cattle, irrigating fields, clearing brush along fence lines, discing firebreaks around homes and barns, or building a home.“ Even Fish and Wildlife Service Southeast Regional Director, Sam D. Hamilton recognizes that because of the ESA effect “The incentives are wrong here. If I have a rare metal n my property, its value goes up. But if a rare bird occupies the land, its value disappears.”
One such example of what is wrong with ESA is the property owned by Ben Cone, Jr. Cone owns several thousand acres of pine forest in Pender County, North Carolina. Like so many who own undeveloped lands he took pride in maintaining it. They enjoy the wildlife, the outdoor experience and many times they are the ones who create habitat for all sorts of wildlife.
For almost 10 years after inheriting this property “he planted special grasses for wild turkey, selectively logged 30-50 acres on a five years basis to create open areas for wildlife and conducted controlled burns to enhance foraging for quail and deer.” Red-cockaded woodpeckers had been on his land since the 1970’s, but since he wasn’t logging there at the time it was no big deal.
It soon became a big deal when he decided in 1991 that he would start logging his property. FWS informed him that twenty nine ….29….. red-cockaded woodpeckers in 12 colonies were living there and that was now their home. By the time they drew lines around each of these habitats they removed 1,560 acres from his control…this was now designated “critical habitat”. These 29 birds cost him 1,560 acres.
These birds spend their entire life within a few miles of the spot where they hatched and they are quite picky as to where they will live. They will only nest in the cavities of trees in mature pine forests between 60 and 70 years old, and he forest floor has to be open and free of hardwood trees or brush. It turns out that Mr. Cone actually helped to create a wonderful habitat for these birds with his responsible stewardship of the land and now he was going to be punished for it. If ever the phrase, “no good deed goes unpunished”, ever applied; it applied now.
There was only one solution….he immediately stopped his 75 to 80 rotation plan for his forests and started clear cutting on a 40 year rotation. If they needed trees that were at least 60 years old they were going to have to find someone else’s trees because no tree on any piece of land that he still controlled were ever going to live that long.
After he clear cut 700 acres the FWS realized how stupid their actions were and (get this) offered him a deal. If he stopped cutting for four years and paid….PAID….$45,000 dollars to create a habitat for these birds on government land they would return his land to him….and he took it. What is really sad is that everyone who is aware of what goes on with all of this ESA corruption views this as a good deal. He had to pay the government $45,000 and four years of production to take back what was already his.
There is another caveat regarding this bird’s preferred living conditions. They prefer long-leaf pines; hence, landowners take predictable actions to protect their land from the predation of government officials enforcing the ESA. They simply plant trees that aren’t attractive to endangered species.
The information cited here is based on the book, Green Gone Wild, by M. David Stirling