Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Landowners Killing Endangered Animals

On a recent episode of "The Mentalist" Patrick Jane got a man to admit to killing turkey vultures that were on his property because the endangered species laws would have prevented him from profiting from the oil sands that were buried there.

How could I possibly have sympathy for someone who would shoot, shovel, and shut up so that he and his family will have money for the rest of their lives? Maybe I've read too much Charles Dickens. Maybe I have a little too much sympathy for people whose lives have been ruined when jobs were sent overseas and the Department of Labor came up with tricky-dicky excuses for stealing their unemployment payments, including the young man who died in Kansas City in the fall of 2008 because he couldn't pay his utilities.

Wanting to be extremely wealthy is a logical and pragmatic extension of the desire to protect and nurture one's own family. A man in India shoots a tiger and lugs the carcass to a dealer, and if he doesn't get shot and does get paid, his family might eat for a couple of years on the tiny amount of money he gets. It's his family that he does it for. At the same time the law would force him to let the tiger walk unmolested through his village even though that is a far greater risk to human life than a tiger on a leash or in a cage.

Just one of the ways that an animal protection law can backfire is that if a citizen does his legal duty and reports that an endangered bird is living on his property, he may lose a lot of money because in spite of the law, they will take his land for public use without just compensation. So instead of reaching some kind of compromise where maybe the birds wind up moving, perhaps to an oil field that is being pumped but is fairly inactive, he either shoots, shovels, and shuts up, or accepts the fact that his family will not financially benefit from the land that he pays taxes on.

I'm not going to hold this against him. Everyone wants to make a small sacrifice to help the animals, and that definitely includes me. There is no need to sacrifice your family, your society, your technology, or your mind in order to help the animals. You can see how the people who gave up their minds behave. They would kill a man to save the turkey vultures. They would also starve him and prevent him from being able to pay his family's medical bills. That's what they really mean when they screech at anyone who makes money.

And on the other hand even a dirty, nasty, ratty dump of a place can save more precious lives than all of the refinement and high standards of an AZA zoo or a World Wildlife Fund project, neither of which have significantly helped any species. It's kind of inevitable because looking at a smattering of history there is a strong tendency to pretty but totally unproductive projects like the Necropolis. So if I were given a choice between a new 100 million dollar facility that looks really good or one that "mills" out the tiger cubs, I'm buying into the mill with all of its alleged mess and squalor because the mill will actually produce. The other choice is a high priced mausoleum whose exhibits are alive now but will not pass on their genes.

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