Rigor Vitae: Life Unyielding

Tuesday, September 19, 2006


Over the next two weeks, a critical decision will affect the future direction of American conservation.

Butler's Garter Snake (Thamnophis butleri) is an inconspicuous little reptile, usually between a foot and two feet long. It haunts grassy meadows and riparian zones from eastern Michigan and northwestern Indiana northeast through western Ohio and into the southwestern tip of Ontario. A disjunct population inhabits the Milwaukee area. In Indiana, the snake is considered endangered, and in Wisconsin its status is threatened. A conflict has developed in the greater Milwaukee area, where real estate developers have found their appetite for land impeded by the Endangered Species Act. Anyone living in the U.S.A. or many other countries has seen similar conflicts. In this particular case, the Milwaukee Builders' Association and regional real estate groups have managed to convince Wisconsin's legislative Joint Committee for the Review of Administrative Rules to vote to delist Butler's Garter Snake as of October 1st, unless the Department of Natural Resources takes significant steps to reduce conservation's impact on the land development community. The irony of this backwards logic seems to be lost on the legislative body.
The Wisconsin DNR, working with the builder’s association, developers, land trusts and public land managers, developed a comprehensive conservation strategy to address the needs of the snake while considering concerns from developers in the spring of 2005. This strategy, which was created using the best available science, is currently being implemented. As part of this strategy, over 1,000 acres of Butler’s Garter Snake habitat considered suitable, but small, have been "let go" to development by the DNR in order to appease developers and focus their conservation efforts on larger sites with more significant conservation value. This current strategy is working and improvements to it are being made on an ongoing basis. Unfortunately, the majority of the Joint Committee views this strategy as too restrictive for developers, and do not support it. It is their goal to delist the Butler’s Garter Snake so that all areas in which it is found are open to development. This would be an unprecedented coup against the Endangered Species Act. It would represent the first American instance of a decision of this kind being taken solely on the basis of economic interests, with absolutely no biological science involved. This is exactly the kind of precedent that the powerful anti-conservation movement is looking for, and all Americans need to decide whether or not we want to live in a society dictated by the greed of the wealthy. These arguments are always framed in terms of “Landowner's Rights,” but let's be honest. The rights of us all are tempered by the rights of others, and by the common good. No one in America has more rights or power than the land developers, so let's not be fooled by their whimpering.

What can you do? Here are some steps recommended by the Center for North American Herpetology:

1. Contact the following legislators today to tell them you are unhappy with the positions they voiced at the last hearing and that you fully support a new hearing being held on September 26th. All made it clear that they are prepared to vote to suspends the applicable administrative rule and delist the snake. Ask others to do the same, especially your friends and colleagues who live in their districts.

Representative Donald Friske (R-Merrill)
(608) 266-7694 Capitol 312 North

Representative Daniel LeMahieu (R-Oostburg)

(608) 266-9175 Capitol 17 North

Senator Tom Reynolds (R-West Allis)
(608) 266-2512 Capitol 306 South

Senator Glenn Grothman (R-West Bend) c/o Jolene Churchill

(608) 266-7513 Capitol 20 South

2. Thank Rep. Marlin Schneider and Senators Jauch and Miller for their strong statements of support.

Senator Mark Miller (D-Monona)

(608) 266-9170 Capitol 106 South

Senator Robert Jauch (D-Poplar)

(608) 266-3510 Capitol 130 South

Representative Marlin Schneider (D-Wisconsin Rapids)

(608) 266-0215 Capitol 204 North

3. Set aside September 26 to attend the next meeting of the committee and be prepared to testify. MCCC is generally credited with applying enough phone calls, faxes, emails and contacts to stop the last effort by this committee to delist the Butler's Garter Snake, two years ago; it can be done again.

4. Three members of the committee did not participate (Rep. Towns was present for a short while, but not for the debate or vote.) Let them know how you feel:

Representative Spencer Black (D-Madison)

(608) 266-7521 Capitol 210 North

Representative Debi Towns (R-Janesville)

(608) 266-9650 Capitol 302 North

Senator Cathy Stepp (R-Sturtevandt)

(608) 266-1832 Capitol 7 South

This is only the first time you will need to contact these legislators. As the issue heats up in the next two months, they need to hear from many supporters of the endangered species law. We must not allow politics to determine which species survive and which do not.
photograph of T. butleri by Mike Redmer; lifted from the Center for Reptile and Amphibian Conservation and Mangement website www.herpcenter.ipfw.edu


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sadly reminiscent of the Kelo vs. New London case.

8:18 PM  
Blogger Carel Brest van Kempen said...

Sure is. I expect we're seeing just the beginning of a major trend.

11:01 AM  

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