California is home to the top 12 agricultural producing counties in the world. This gem is increasingly endangered by a number of factors:
The average age of farmers is 65. The next generation of potential farmers has watched their fathers and grandfathers struggle with regulations and the lack of surface water delivery and are choosing other careers.
Farmers are selling out and leaving California on a larger scale than I have seen in my lifetime. Just recently, four of our region’s top producing farmers sold their land and have moved to Idaho. The common theme among their reasons is “I have had enough!”
A large factor in the demise of the California farmer is the Endangered Species Act. This act needs reform to include the economic and human factor, as it disregards the effects of environmental mitigation as an impact to people, as well as critters, making the farmer the most endangered species.
For example, the last thirty years of spotted owl policies have left our forest and watershed overgrown and blighted. With proper management, a clean watershed would increase valley groundwater by 30 percent as verified in a recent UC Merced Study. This means that over the last 30 years we have lost 900 percent of what we could have gleaned to restore our ground water.
This has also resulted in catastrophic wild fires which are decimating our forests. These problems were not anticipated when knee jerk policies destroyed our logging industry. This industry, through controlled logging, addressed the problem of overgrown forests without cost to the federal or state government, created revenue, and created a much more environmentally friendly circumstance for critters and humans alike.
In short, if the ESA had a human and economic component, it is unlikely that this impact would have been overlooked. Because of this failure, the ESA has put in peril a $300 billion industry and six million jobs.
Recent environmental policy, created by ESA rules and liberally interpreted by bureaucrats, led to the release of thousands of acre feet of Central Valley Project water down the Klamath River for Salmon. Those same policies and bureaucrats also released millions of acre feet of water from the Sacramento River, through the Delta and out to sea, eliminating the delivery of water to exchange contractors in the North Central part of the State. This created a chain reaction in which the exchange contractors made their rightful claim of Miller and Lux rights on the San Joaquin River of 280,000 acre feet of water. This eliminated deliveries to exchange contractors from Madera and all points south.
From an agricultural standpoint, the loss of surface water due to the ESA interpretations have been counterproductive to air pollution reduction goals, as it has led to unprecedented ground water pumping, using huge amounts of energy, both from the grid as well as petroleum fueled pumps. Twenty percent of California’s energy used is directly attributed to water production related electricity, according to Charles Wilson, senior policy manager, Southern California Edison.
In addition to damaging the air, the aquifer and the economy through ESA created policies which have limited and, in some cases ceased, surface water delivery, the critters we have attempted to protect through those policies are being decimated. Habitat for the spotted owl and thousands of other species are being consumed at an alarming rate by catastrophic wild fires. Thousands of species in valley wetlands died this year, including fish, migratory birds and, yes, endangered species.
Due to ESA policies and the river restoration act, millions of acre feet of water have been released without accomplishing a return of salmon. What it has accomplished is a loss of stored water which would have minimized the affects of severe drought. It has also lead to such unprecedented ground water pumping that the river itself is subsiding on the west side of Madera County, potentially making a lake and wasting millions of dollars used to restore salmon. While releasing this water to restore species, thousands of critters and water fowl have been decimated, along with farms, jobs and the lives of people.
When are we going to see the symbiotic relationship between people and the environment? When people are suffering because of environmental regulations that are running amuck, so will the species that these laws were made to protect.
Given this reality, the case can be made that the human /economic factor, when added to the ESA, would have balanced the impact of a statewide drought, instead of preserving selected regions while destroying others.
As constructed, the ESA has preserved species in one region and destroyed them in another while killing off our valuable agricultural industry and, along with it, thousands of jobs and ancillary businesses. We must come together and ask for reform of the Endangered Species Act, and that reform needs to include a human and economic element for balance.