February 4, 2009

"Endangered Species Act a 'weapon of choice'"

By "Endangered Species Act a 'weapon of choice'"

Mike Nizich, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin's chief of staff, had this op-ed in yesterday's Juneau Empire. Nizich writes, in part:

In recent years . . . the [ESA] has become the weapon of choice for environmental groups to thwart resource and economic development activities they oppose. Projects within the habitat range of a listed species must undergo extensive consultation and analysis before approval. In Alaska alone there are 19 ESA-listed species, with another nine species being considered for listing. They run the gamut from eiders to herring to walrus and their habitats blanket Alaska's entire coastline and some interior land.

The State of Alaska is alarmed at the recent proliferation of listings and petitions to list and we are concerned about some of the policies and methods used to make such decisions. We are troubled by an increased reliance on computer population modeling based upon overly conservative assumptions. We object to listing decisions that are made despite extremely small likelihood of extinction over extended timelines of 50, 100, or even hundreds of years. And we caution against setting recovery goals that may be unachievable and much more stringent than needed to alleviate the risk of extinction.

Increasingly, computer models are used to assess a species' risk of going extinct. When employing such models, an agency must determine how far into the future it can reasonably predict a species' viability. Should this be 10 years, 50 years, 100 years or beyond? In the case of beluga whales in Cook Inlet, population models were used to predict risk out to 300 years. This is too far into the future to model with any certainty.

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