Owls have a reputation for being brighter than the average bird. But we doubt they realize it when they stray across an international border, migrating, say, from northern Mexico into southern Arizona.
So what sense does it make to count Arizona’s population of cactus ferruginous pygmy owls separately from Mexico’s population when trying to determine whether the birds need federal protection?
It make no sense — which is why it’s part of the Endangered Species Act.
Arguably the most powerful of federal environmental laws, the ESA permits the Balkanization of the world’s pygmy owl population, as if there were such a thing as “American” or “Mexican” pygmy owls. That’s why we welcome a proposal by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to remove the owls from federal protection.
There aren’t a lot of the diminutive birds in southern Arizona, which seems to be the northern edge of their range. But the owls are plentiful south of the border. And what sense does it make to penalize property owners in Arizona to protect a species that’s in no real danger of extinction?
It makes sense only to activists who are using the owl, as they use many federally protected species, as pawns in their anti-development agenda. And this explains why the proposal to de-list is bound to be fought tooth and talon.
The de-listing is not only the sensible but the legal thing to do, since the owl’s listing was already thrown out by the (very liberal) 9th U.S. Circuit of Appeals, which in 2003 ruled that the federal government erred by failing to account for owl populations south of the border.
De-listing would not lead to an open season on owls in Arizona. An international migratory bird treaty already makes killing one a crime.
The silliness surrounding pygmy owl protections is one example of why some in Congress are pushing for changes to ESA. But it pales in comparison to what’s going on in the Pacific Northwest, where owl researchers and federal officials are pushing a plan to shotgun thousands of barred owls migrating into the region, in an attempt to defend the turf of less aggressive spotted owls.
Protecting rare plants and animals from human beings is one thing. But we’ve crossed a line and strayed into strange new territory when we interpret the ESA as granting human beings the authority to intervene in a natural rivalry between species.