Environmental special interests were stung recently by a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court decision ruling owners of private land cannot be compelled to forego future economic uses of their property or convert their land into suitable habitat for an endangered frog at their own expense.
Ignoring this win for property rights, radical greens are now eyeing even bigger land grabs.
In the latest of many Endangered Species Act (ESA) lawsuits involving insects, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) sued the U.S. Department of the Interior for declining to designate “critical habitat” for the “endangered” rusty patched bumblebee (RPB), which the Obama administration designated as endangered just before leaving office in January 2017.
NRDC says Interior must designate habitats based on “best available evidence,” but Interior points out the extremely limited knowledge about RPBs makes critical habitat determinations impossible.
Activists claim RPB populations declined beginning in the mid-1990s because of habitat loss, disease, climate change, and especially the use of crop-protecting pesticides.
Habitat Loss, Disease
In 2013, when petitioning the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) for endangered status for the RPB, the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation said the bee’s decline was due to habitat loss and multiple diseases spreading from domesticated honeybees to wild bees.
“The exact cause for the loss of the rusty patched is unclear,” says University of Virginia biology professor T’ai Roulston. “But it’s almost certainly related to disease,” especially a fungal gut parasite that “can shorten the lives of worker bees and disrupt mating success and survival of queens and males.”
Habitat loss is another factor. Over the past half-century, cities and suburbs have expanded and farmers increasingly have emphasized large-scale monoculture crops such as corn and canola for food and biofuels, reducing underground RPB nesting sites and the varieties of flowers wild bees prefer.
Obama’s FWS ignored these factors, downplaying the role disease and habitat loss played in RPB decline, and instead blaming pesticides, especially advanced-technology neonicotinoid pesticides (neonics).
Anti-Pesticide Claims Refuted
The evidence refutes claims pesticides are responsible for the bee decline.
An international study of wild bees in Nature Communications found only 2 percent of wild bee species are responsible for 80 percent of all crop visits. Most wild bees never even come into contact with crops or the pesticides that supposedly harm them.
Even more compelling, the Nature study determined the 2 percent of wild bees that do visit crops, and so would be most exposed to pesticides, are among the healthiest bee species on Earth.
Other studies found neonic pesticide residues are well below levels that can adversely affect bee development or reproduction, because most neonics are used as seed coatings, being absorbed into plant tissue as crops grow. Neonics target only pests that actually feed on the crops and are largely gone by the time mature plants flower. Neonics are barely detectable in pollen.
These facts won’t matter once the FWS starts designating RPB critical habitat. The agency and environmentalists will be able to delay, block, or bankrupt any proposed or ongoing project or activity within any area they can make any plausible claim might potentially qualify as bee habitat.
Land Control Writ Large
The potential geographic reach of RPB critical habitat designations is enormous.
RPBs are likely to be found “in scattered locations that cover only 0.1 percent of the species’ historical range,” the FWS has said. Yet 0.1 percent of the bee’s asserted historical range is nearly four million acres, equivalent to the combined land area of Connecticut and Rhode Island.
Even worse, that acreage is widely dispersed in tiny parcels across 13 states where amateur entomologists have supposedly spotted RPBs since 2000. That’s some 380 million acres, 15 times the size of Virginia, amounting to a green land grab on steroids.
That’s just the beginning. Environmental groups could pressure government agencies to halt projects across millions of acres, or agencies could do it at their own volition, to delay or block gas pipelines, farming, or housing developments, for example, while large areas are carefully examined for signs of RPBs.
Ominously, other environmental groups want yellow-banded, western, and Franklin’s bumblebees designated as endangered. These species were supposedly once found in tiny areas scattered over a billion acres in 40 U.S. states.
Other anti-pesticide, anti-fossil-fuel, pro-Green New Deal (GND) activists want beetles and other bugs designated as endangered.
It’s all about control.
The ultimate effect would be to let radical groups use insects designated as “threatened or endangered” to delay or veto countless projects and activities across nearly the entire United States.
What About Wind?
Hypocritically, these same eco-activists express few concerns about bald and golden eagles, other bird species, and multiple rare bat species currently being decimated by wind turbines.
Whooping cranes are teetering on the brink of extinction, yet their Canada-to-Texas flyway is now home to hundreds of bird-butchering turbine rotors.
The resulting carnage is ignored by greens and regulators alike, while Big Wind operators prohibit independent biologists from entering the killing grounds to get accurate counts of bird and bat carcasses.
Many bird and bat species could be wiped out entirely if anything like the GND sprouts hundreds of thousands of 400-foot-tall onshore turbines across the country.
These cases underscore why the ESA must be revised to improve the science used in species listing and habitat designation decisions, and to ensure the human toll of ESA listing decisions is taken into account.
Paul Driessen ([email protected]) is a senior policy advisor with the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow.