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Fed Otter Ban a Bust

Friday December 21st, 2012   •   Posted by K. Lloyd Billingsley at 12:18pm PST   •  

For 25 years the federal government has been trying to ban sea otters (Enhydra lutris nereis) from vast reaches of the Pacific Ocean off California. Now the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says the plan was “harmful” and “futile.” The translocation program, therefore, “should be considered a failure.”

Otter advocate Steve Shimek told the San Francisco Chronicle that “Trying to tell a marine mammal to stay on one side of an imaginary line across the water was a dumb idea.” The Chronicle noted that “the otters ignored the edict” and that federal officials admitted the plan was a bust as far back as 2005. Even before they launched the program, biologists surely knew that government can’t force otters to live where they don’t want to live.

The failed effort confirms that government is willing to adopt dumb ideas and use them to establish programs. Government will maintain those programs for decades, even if they turn out futile and harmful. Government biologists are more than willing to indulge such futility because their high salaries and generous benefits are at stake. So critters have good reason to fear the feds.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife service has been campaigning against owls for moving to new regions. The U.S. Forest Service crusades against beavers and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has been killing California seal lions for eating more salmon than government biologists think they should eat. And lethal government programs have not neglected domestic animals.

As Amity Shlaes noted in The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression, the Agricultural Adjustment Administration (AAA), a New Deal agency, wanted to drive up pork prices. In that quest, the AAA killed six million pigs before they reached full size. Pork prices rose only a bit, but as one citizen wrote “we poor people cannot have a piece of bacon.”

As a review of that book in the New York Times said, government attempts to fine-tune the economy, such as farm subsidies, “truly did fail.” So did the federal otter relocation program. A government that can’t balance a checkbook can’t balance nature by any means, least of all by applying a dumb idea for 25 years.

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December 2012