NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Replenishing Endangered Species In Colorado

May 30, 2003

The Endangered Species Act is all about preserving species so environmentalists ought to be thrilled with plans to propagate these animals.

The 7-inch pygmy owl is a cute little creature, but only 18 remain in Arizona. That's a problem for developers in Tucson. Environmentalists want 1.2 million acres of land from the Mexican border to northwest Tucson designated a "critical habitat" under the Endangered Species Act, which would put a severe crimp in the development potential of the land.

Maybe Tucson's builders could take a page from the state of Colorado, which is trying to end-run the environmentalists by, among other things, breeding scarce species.

  • In 2000 Colorado built a 760-acre fish lab on the dusty plains of Alamosa, with manmade ponds and dozens of tanks and tubs.
  • There it breeds 13 endangered or near-endangered aquatic species, such as the southern redbelly dace, the suckermouth minnow and the boreal toad.
  • Last year the lab, which has cost the state $6 million so far, restocked lakes and rivers with 33,000 fish and 3,200 toads.

At least nine other states breed endangered species or ones nearing that status, from sockeye salmon in Idaho to toads in Wyoming.

"Some environmentalists have no real desire to recover species," says Colorado Governor Bill F. Owens. "They really want to stop development, and the act happens to be the mechanism to do that. We are calling that bluff."

Will the end-run work? Not on its own. By law, animals can't lose their endangered status unless they can survive on their own in the wild. A million housed in a lab don't count.

Source: Joanne Gordon, "Sex and the State," Forbes, May 12, 2003.

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