The Obama administration is spending $35 million to buy 30,000 acres of private property across the U.S. this year to make permanent homes for mice, fairy shrimp, mussels, prairie bushes and beetles.
Those are just some of the 70 critters and plants to benefit from the land purchases in a dozen states as part of the government’s habitat conservation plans for endangered species.
“The federal government already owns more land than Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Spain, Italy and Poland combined,” said Rob Gordon, senior adviser for strategic outreach at The Heritage Foundation.
“We don’t need more for critters like the fairy shrimp that can thrive in fragile ecosystems like roadside ditches. We need less,” Gordon said.
The federal government owns more than 600 million acres of land.
The Fish and Wildlife Service, which manages the habitat for endangered species, already controls 93 million acres. That’s more than the National Park Service, which oversees 79 million acres.
The San Diego fairy shrimp, as well as the Arroyo toad, coastal California gnatcatcher and Southwestern willow flycatcher, will benefit from one California habitat that spans 600 acres and costs $6 million.
The fairy shrimp, crustaceans in the same taxonomic order as “sea monkeys,” are less than an inch in size and live in vernal pools that spring up after a heavy rainfall. Critics call the pools mud puddles.
“The proposed acquisition areas support a mosaic of high-quality riparian, vernal pool and upland habitats that support numerous listed and unlisted species covered by the San Diego Multiple Species Conservation Program,” the grant description says.
The vernal pool tadpole shrimp, along with the California red-legged frog and San Joaquin kit fox, will benefit from $4.4 million to buy 1,800 acres for habitat and wildlife corridors.
In making the announcement last week of these and other grants to acquire “vital habitat,” Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said the money spent will contribute to the “success in preventing the extinction of hundreds of threatened and endangered species.”
Dan Ashe, director of the Fish and Wildlife Service, said the program depends on “voluntary landowner participation” and will “safeguard habitat for threatened and endangered species, and foster conservation stewardship efforts for future generations.”
Some of the other stewardship efforts include nearly $3 million to buy 20 acres of prime Gulf-front property for the Perdido Key beach mouse in Florida at a price tag of $150,000 an acre.
Beach lots totaling eight acres along the Atlantic Ocean in St. Johns County, Florida, will also be purchased for more than $200,000 for the Anastasia Island beach mouse.
Rob Roy Ramey, a biologist at Wildlife Science International, criticized funding habitat for mice subspecies and said there are more deserving animals in need of protection.
“This is an absurd waste of resources,” Ramey said.
In Arkansas, $1.5 million will be spent on nearly 1,700 acres for two freshwater mussels and the red-cockaded woodpecker, as well as the rabbitsfoot mussel, which the government is considering adding to the protected species list.
The grant award says this will be a “springboard to open up opportunities to work with local landowners along the Saline River and assist in putting further areas into conservation.”
In Texas, the Coffin Cave mold beetle and Bone Cave harvestman will have a new home with the $1.1 million purchase of 67 acres, and in Georgia, more than $650,000 will buy 265 acres to preserve one mile of a tributary to Raccoon Creek to protect the Etowah darter and Cherokee darter.
In Nebraska, $135,000 is being spent for the Salt Creek tiger beetle, and nearly $143,000 in North Carolina will buy 140 acres to protect one herb, the rough-leaved loosestrife.
A half-million dollars in Oregon will buy 285 acres of land for Fender’s blue butterfly, Kincaid’s lupine and Nelson’s checkermallow.
In addition to the two-dozen grants to buy property, three additional grants will cost nearly $7 million for easements across 10,000 acres of property to benefit five fish, two bats and three beetle subspecies.
The Endangered Species Act requires the federal government to designate and protect critical habitat on land, water or in the air for every species it lists.
The Fish and Wildlife Service has so far designated critical habitat for more than 600 species, including mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish, clams, snails, insects, arachnids, crustaceans, corals, flowering plants, ferns and allies.
Study courtesy of the Heritage Foundation.