Decreasing Invasive Species May Increase Invasive Government

Property rights activists are worried that a renewed push to combat non-native “invasive species” could end up granting massive new powers over private land to the federal government.

“This could expand the federal government’s power far beyond what the Endangered Species Act has done,” said R.J. Smith, director of the Center for Private Conservation. “Few people have endangered species on their land. Almost everyone has non-native species.”

Smith and other pro-private-property activists are keeping an eye on the Interior Department as it works on a major invasive species control proposal.

Smith said environmentalists are trying to use the legitimate problems raised by some non-native species to generate a movement for comprehensive, ESA-like legislation that would empower federal bureaucrats to eradicate whatever non-native species they deemed harmful. “The problem is, none of our people are on the invasive species committees and councils [of the government],” said Smith. “They are all environmentalists. And the radical environmentalists want to eliminate all non-native species from the country. They want to go back to 1492. Some of them want to eliminate state-to-state transfer of species.”

Non-native species range from benign plants such as most lawn grasses to true pests such as the snakehead.

On April 23, Congress passed a bill to combat nutria, a rat-like aquatic creature. The Noxious Weed Control Act (S 144), supported by Western ranchers, recently passed the Senate. The House is considering a companion bill. “The definitions of ‘weed’ and ‘harmful’ in these bills is too vague,” said Smith. “Who decides what is a weed?” He said the bills should be amended to include compensation for property owners who lose money due to government action.

“I am very concerned about the property rights implications of pending legislation addressing so-called ‘invasive species,’” Senate Environment Chairman James Inhofe (R.-Okla.) told HUMAN EVENTS. “First, we should examine existing regulatory authority over this issue to determine how it’s being enforced. Second, bills of this scope and volume deserve close scrutiny because they can easily spiral into a regulatory morass. As the dysfunctional Endangered Species Act has shown, Congress should be very wary of how legislation on invasive species is drafted.”

“In 1973, when the Endangered Species Act was passed, it was viewed as innocuous,” said Ray Arnett, an asparagus farmer in Stockton, Calif., who served as assistant secretary of Interior under President Reagan. “They wanted to save the bald eagle.”

“Today, the Endangered Species Act has nothing to do with endangered species,” said Fred Grau, a Pennsylvania farmer who grows a non-native species used in farming corn on hilly land. “It has to do with control of the land and the people.”