There is big money in the endangered species industry, and it is an industry. The business consists of researching, designating, protecting and suing to establish and protect so called endangered species. Virtually every endangered species has some dedicated organization or researcher, somewhere, which is being paid to study it. If the species wasn't endangered, they wouldn't be paid. In fact, the only ones not making money from the racket are the people who own the property where the species is found.
Endangered species are worth big money. Just how much money is involved might surprise you.
This money doesn't flow to the landowners whose private property rights were taken away to eestablish the critical habitat. It doesn't flow to the families of loggers who lost their jobs. Nor does it flow to mining claim holders whose areas have been shut down supposedly to protect these species.
This money flows to the same people who determined the species needed protecting. The groups which sued to list it, and the states who have set up the regulatory schemes to prevent you from treading where these species live.
Everyone profits but you and I.
Above. Sierra Nevada Mountain Yellow Legged Frog. Photo: US Fish and Wildlife Service.
The Sierra Nevada Mountain Yellow Legged Frog (or MYLF) is a small frog which inhabits the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California. Prior to the passage of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) we had a real shortage of MYLF species, in fact there was only one species of MYLF which was called appropriately the Mountain Yellow Legged Frog. The frog inhabitated places as diverse as the lower elevation foothills all the way to the crest of the range.
After the passage of the ESA, and in fact quite recently, the frog bloomed into multiple sub-species we now had a virtual cornucopia of them. From our one lonesome species we now had the distinct sub-species the foothills yellow legged frog (FYLF). Who were apparently genetically different because they lived at lower elevations than their MYLF cousins.
Thanks to taxpayer funded studies environmental groups discovered even the higher altitude frogs were actually genetically different and we now had the Southern Distinct Population Segment of the Mountain Yellow Legged Frog and the Northern Distinct Population Segment of the Mountain Yellow Legged Frog.
Once you have established a distinct subspecies you can further divide that species into the specific ten feet it lives until you reach the point you have an endangered species. You can make it appear, by sub-dividing any species is at peril. Naturally, once the sub-species group is small enough the environmentalists must save the frog.
To protect the frog you would think perhaps they would plant some lily pads, or maybe create some frog habitat by digging a few swamps, but that doesn't actually save the species. Only suing the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) actually saves a species.
It's easy to win against the USFWS, they're up against some pretty hard deadlines for making a decision, and if you drop enough petitions on them, say 200 or so at a time, they won't make their 90 day deadline required by the law, so all you have to do is sue them to move faster and then collect your attorney fees all in the name of saving the frog. Pretty nice business model, especially when you're being reimbursed at rates up to $750 an hour to save a frog.
Now that the environmental groups had finally saved the frog, and been paid their attorney fees, they couldn't just let nature take its course. No, in 2012, based on more lawsuits, they were able to determine those frogs who lived north of Yosemite were actually two distinct sub-species so now they could separate them into the Sierra Nevada Mountain Yellow Legged Frog and just the plain old Mountain Yellow Legged Frog, both of which were at extreme peril now of going extinct. With that established the only way to save these frogs was to sue the USFWS again, which they did. They won again and were paid again. Finally, to stop the lawsuits the USFWS set aside nearly 2.8 million acres across the rural counties of Californai which would now be off limits to virtually all human activity while the frogs recovered from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife fish stocking program which had decimated the frogs over the years to the benefit of the trout fishermen.
The frogs aren't an isoloated case, not by a long shot. The Yellow Billed Cuckoo is another recent example. Prior to the 1990's there was only one species of Yellow Billed Cuckoo. The bird is actually quite common in the eastern United States but they weren't so common in the west.
For the environmentalists it is unacceptable to let any species determine where it prefers to live. If a single member of this species lived in an area once, then it should be restored. Of course the only route to restore a species is to sue and collect your legal fees. None of this tryig to restore habitat or establish breeding pairs for the environmental groups, only a lawyer being paid $750 an hour could possible save this bird which didn't exactly prefer to live where they wanted it to live.
There was one small problem with collecting the legal fees. You see the experts, the bird experts that is, who study these sort of things couldn't tell the birds apart, not even at the genetic level. The USFWS stepped in to conduct a study to determine if the common eastern Cuckoo was the same bird as the one which was occassionally seen in the west. Dr Richard Banks, of the USFWS, compared measurements of bill length, wing length and color variations across 700 birds. He determined there were no differences between the two birds, they were in fact one species.
Whoops. This wasn't the right answer for the environmentalists. This bird had the potential to be a cash cow. While the environmental groups had already locked up all the coastal rivers with critical habitat designations for salmon, the interior rivers were proving more problematic. No salmon lived in the rivers of Utah, Wyoming, Texas and Arizona and the environmentalists desperately wanted to lock up these rivers with critical habitat to destroy farming and ranching.
The USFWS asked Dr. Banks to double check his work, surely there must be some difference which would justify the western birds being a distinct species from the eastern. Once again (1990) the bird expert set about happily measuring bills, beaks, wings and tails and once again found from an expert's point of view there was no difference.
The environmental groups were disappointed, but not defeated. They weren't getting the answer they wanted from the country's premier Yellow Billed Cuckoo expert so they hired two new researchers (Franzreb and Laymon, 1993) who shockingly discovered there were errors in Dr. Bank's measurements and surprisingly, despite years of research to the contrary these errors indicated the eastern and western birds were actually distinct sub-species. This subdivision resulted in the western birds being declared endangered although you couldn't throw a dead cat without hitting one of the eastern birds.
So what were the errors which justified the listing? The two new researchers evaluated an additional 41 birds (Dr. Banks evaluated 700) and developed a "discriminate function analysis equation" which could predict with 74% probability the mitochondrial DNA. Follow? Let's put it on our terms - the premier bird expert in the US government spent three years with a ruler measuring 700 different birds and couldn't tell the difference. So the environmentalists simply brought in new people who developed a complicated algorithm which could predict the difference even though not a single person in the country could tell the birds apart. In other words, if the birds aren't really different, find some way to make them different.
Good question. If you go to the grocery store and buy a package of Coho salmon you may not realize those salmon are endangered. Well, if you divide them up into where they lay their eggs they become endangered and this is the next stage of the racket.
Here's the way it works. You can't just have a Coho salmon, it wouldn't be endangered because there are millions of them. In fact, millions and millions. You must subdivide the species into distinct population groups and suddenly you've got lots of them endangered. Want to declare a species endangered? It's easy, just keep narrowing down the specific habitat until you're down to a specific two feet of river and find the salmon that laid its eggs there, you now have a distinct population groups which only lays its eggs in those two feet of river and it's genetically adapted over millions of years to only those two feet.
If you have a PhD there's a lot of money waiting for you in this business. However, if you're inclined to disagree with findings which cause something to be endangered you may want to stick with your current job. There is no money for those who study things to see if they're not endangered.
Just how much money is involved is shown by money provided to a single researcher to study the endangered Mountain Yellow Legged Frog. The leading frog researcher (yes, people do this for money) is from the University of California, Santa Barbara. He's spent a career studying these frogs and he's received millions in taxpayer money to do this. The individual receiving the most money is Dr. Roland Knapp, a frog expert.
A recent sampling of grant money flowing to the University of California, Santa Barbara specifically to study frogs shows just how much money this frog is worth:
A total, over six months, of $758,372 was paid to a single researcher to study frogs. Keep in mind these studies don't add a single frog to the population, they merely study it. How do you manage to spend over $700,000 researching frogs? You would think after twenty years of research there would be little left to discover about these little guys. But virtually all research grants start off with these words, "Little is known of..." and then grant application goes on to define some obscure detail of the frogs life like "Little is known of the frogs TV viewing preferences..."
If you think that's a lot of money, keep in mind that's a single species, a single researcher, a single university. If you're an Indian tribe all you have to do is write with a crayon on a piece of paper you want $200,000 to study some aspect of an endangered species and poof you've got $200K. Nice. Check out the graphic at the bottom of the page for a listing of grants awarded to tribes in 2013 to study things.
The endangered species industry isn't just about researchers and environmental groups. Federal and State governments get cash too. The ESA provides for giving money to the states to "manage" threatened and endangered species found on "state" land (which means your private property as well).
The 2014 USFWS budget was $1.2 billion. Of that $22,622,000 is funds for managing threatened and endangered species, exclusive of litigation costs.
The US Fish and Wildlife Service was one of the few government agencies which received an increase in funding from 2013. Their budget increased by $76.4 million. The BLM budget includes $4,000,000 which is dedicated to conservation on federal land. Other agencies and state governments are also cashing in. In total the federal budget includes $87,000,0000 which supports the endangered species program. This money isn't buying land, it isn't producing more of these species it's just studying and generating more endangered species which demands yet more money to manage those species.
Pity the people who aren't yet on this gravy train. Oh wait, that's us, the taxpayers, loggers, miners, ranchers and property owners. It isn't the least bit coincidental the ones filing lawsuits to save these species are the organizations who are located in the big cities such as San Francisco.
In the budget there isn't a single dollar allocated to the person who's property the Mountain Yellow Legged Frog is found on, yet there's nearly a million allocated to some PhD to study it. If you are the property owner, and you want to hire a frog researcher to study your frog you can hire one at $200 an hour. No, we're not making this up, that's the quote we got when we asked a frog researcher to study some frogs for us. This is the going rate for a person who has zero value in the free market. Afterall, in a free economy who would actually pay someone who studies frogs?