Religious fanatics terrorize American farmers

John Stossel

6/14/2006 12:05:00 AM - John Stossel

Media coverage of environmental regulators makes them look like dispassionate scientists. But too often they are dangerous religious fanatics.

Years ago, when ranchers and farmers told me that our government's environmental regulatory agencies had been captured by fanatics so hostile to the idea of private property that they'd use the endangered-species law to drive just about every landowner off his land, I thought they were overwrought. Then I learned the story of the lynx.

Thousands of lynx live in North America, but since environmental officials weren't sure whether there were any in the Gifford Pinchot and Wenatchee National Forests in southern Washington state, they commissioned a million-dollar study to find out.

The discovery of threatened or endangered species would be terrifying news to ranchers and farmers who depend upon use of the land for their livelihoods. Property-rights advocate Mike Paulson told us: "We basically say if you have an endangered species in your area, we're going to take your livelihood away, we're going to destroy your communities, and we're going to make it very difficult for your families to survive." The Endangered Species Act has been used to shut down logging, take away water rights, and stop multitudes of construction and development projects.

I want to save endangered species, too, but government is supposed to protect the rights of the people -- not destroy their lives because threatened animals might be in their area.

For their study in Washington state, government biologists nailed pieces of carpet soaked with catnip onto trees, hoping a lynx would rub up against them and leave some fur -- evidence of the lynx's existence in this particular area. Sure enough, when biologists sent carpet samples to a lab, they came back positive for hairs from a Canada lynx.

That may sound like good evidence that there were Canada lynx in the area, but actually, the regulators went to a zoo, got hair samples from captive lynx, and sent those hairs to the lab to be tested.

The biologists only admitted rigging the test when they were caught. The cheating didn't surprise Jim Beers, a biologist for the Department of Fish and Wildlife for 30 years.

He told me that biologists at Fish and Wildlife were on a campaign to keep people out of wooded areas. "The agencies today," he said, "are staffed with environmental radical activists." And the activist-bureaucrats don't want people living in the woods.

Once caught with their hands in the cage, the biologists announced that they were not trying to cheat, they were just "testing" the lab to make sure it could detect lynx hair by sending a "control" sample. Beers said: "That's the same as you telling me that you caught them walking out of the bank with money and they said, 'Oh, we were just seeing if the system works here.'"

No biologists were fired for the lynx fraud. They were just "disciplined." The fanatics protect their own.

Science-fiction author Robert A. Heinlein once wrote, "In declaring his love for a beaver dam (erected by beavers for beavers' purposes) and his hatred for dams erected by men (for the purposes of men) the 'Naturist' reveals his hatred for his own race -- i.e., his own self-hatred." The "Naturist" religion, which today we call "environmentalism," elevates every other form of life above human life. The Constitution was written to protect human beings' rights to life, liberty and property, but environmentalism says those rights must be subordinated to the protection of other species. And men and women who count on their land to support them must live at the mercy of the regulators.

How would environmental fanatics capture a government agency? Well, who is more likely to volunteer to take a job in a bureaucracy that has little to recommend it except that it gives you the power to use government force to control the lives of others? A dispassionate scientist or a zealot?

In government, the zealots eventually take over.