NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


March 28, 2006

Today, the biggest issue in Denver, Colo., is the plight of a tiny mouse, says Stephen Moore, of the Wall Street Journal.

In 1998, the Preble's meadow jumping mouse gained protective status under the 1973 Endangered Species Act (ESA) and caused 31,000 acres of local government and privately owned land in Colorado and Wyoming to be quarantined from all development.

Eventually, the cost to these land owners will reach $183 million, but right now, the Preble's mouse is imposing huge costs on local communities, says Moore:

  • A Colorado water district was recently required to build two tunnels under a man-made pond to spare the critters the inconvenience of having to scurry around it; in the end, the water project cost more than $1 million.
  • The Fish and Wildlife Service has the authority to assess penalties on property owners if they even inadvertently spoil mouse habitat; owners can be fined if their cats chase and apprehend mice.
  • A 2003 survey found that more than one in four land owners impacted by the Preble's mouse regulation "admitted to actively degrading habitat following the species listing in 1998."
  • Additionally, many individuals have been so strong-armed by federal bureaucrats that they have come to believe that the original intent of the ESA has been to slow economic development.

Here lies the problem: the law tries to achieve the societal policy goal of saving species from extinction by imposing all of the costs on a hapless few, says Moore; however, reforms that allow landowners to get fair compensation from the government if their land is depressed in value due to a wetlands or endangered species designation have been proposed.

Furthermore, if society wants to preserve habitat for the common good, then the cost should be borne by all taxpayers, not individual landowners, says Moore.

Source: Stephen Moore, "Of Mice and Men," Wall Street Journal, March 23, 2006.

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