'The real problem is lack of time'

  • Dennis Murphy

    Courtesy Center for Conservation Biology
 

Note: This article is a sidebar to one of this issue's feature stories.

Biologist Dennis Murphy, president of the Center for Conservation Biology at Stanford University, is a science advisor for several Habitat Conservation Plans in Southern California. The plans were designed to protect the California gnatcatcher and other species while allowing development in the last remnants of the coastal scrub ecosystem.

Dennis Murphy: "The goal of the Endangered Species Act is unrealizable. Recovering species that only need public lands may be possible, but on private lands only heroic efforts will be able to sustain species that will inevitably decline. That's a reality.

"Habitat Conservation Plans are a result of the fundamental clash between the Endangered Species Act and the Fifth Amendment, which guarantees property owners compensation if the government takes their property. The plans have helped us avoid this ultimate showdown in court. We already know how (justices) Scalia, Rehnquist and Thomas would vote if the right case came before the Supreme Court.

"The big problem with HCPs is not lack of science but lack of time. Private landowners come in to do an HCP when they are ready to develop. They're not willing to wait seven years for us to do studies.

"The answer of science in Southern California is not to allow any more building and to knock down half of what is there and restore the landscape. That's not going to happen. If the California gnatcatcher needs 19 out of every 20 acres - sorry, bird, you ain't going to get it.

"There are some rules that can be used to resolve scientific uncertainty. If the plan is pro-species by a ratio of two or three acres saved for every one developed, then it's probably OK. If the ratio is more like one acre lost for every acre saved, then the species might have a tough go of it. If we apply basic concepts of conservation biology - adequately sized reserves that are connected to each other - 90 percent of the uncertainty is dealt with.

"But active management is a requisite now. We've probably crossed the line where the gnatcatcher can take care of itself.

"The main problem with HCPs is that Babbitt has muzzleloaded so many of them in the pipeline that staff with less and less qualifications are making the deals. That's troubling.

"In the Southeast, with the red-cockaded woodpecker, some of the HCPs seem bogus. In the Northwest, in northern spotted owl country, they appear to be better than the status quo, but are they good enough for us to lock them in for 100 years? I'd get a lot of negative response to that.

"Since I began working on the Southern California plans I have become a target of environmentalists. I have begun to understand how my developer friends feel. Of course, there are some asshole developers out there. But the developers who have lasted understand the game. They understand that if they have 800 acres, they'll only be able to build on 200. They expect "extractions." These guys boast of how many regulatory hurdles they have jumped to get their projects through.

"I want the enviros to tell me what science they would use to resolve acre-by-acre decisions with a reasonable budget and time frame."

High Country News Classifieds
  • DEVELOPMENT COORDINATOR
    Greater Yellowstone Coalition seeks a development professional to coordinate the organization's individual giving program. The position description is available at http://greateryellowstone.org/careers Please email a letter...
  • IDAHO STATE DIRECTOR
    The Wilderness Society is seeking a full time Idaho State Director who will preferably be based in Boise, Idaho. At least 8-10 years of experience...
  • COMMUNICATIONS MANAGER AND BEARS EARS EDUCATION CENTER MANAGER
    Conservation nonprofit Friends of Cedar Mesa in Bluff, Utah is hiring for two positions. We seek a Communications Manager to execute inspiring and impactful communications...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Wilderness Volunteers Wilderness Volunteers (WV), a 24-year leader in preserving our nation's wildlands, is seeking a motivated person with deep outdoor interests to guide our...
  • HECHO POLICY AND ADVOCACY MANAGER
    Hispanics Enjoying Camping, Hunting, and the Outdoors (HECHO) was created in 2013 to help fulfill our duty to conserve and protect our public lands for...
  • FISHERIES BIOLOGIST
    Under the direct supervision of the Director of Shoshone-Paiute Tribe's Fish, Wildlife & Parks, in coordination with the Tribal Programs Administrator and the Tribal Chairman,...
  • REGIONAL EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR NORTHERN ROCKIES, PRAIRIES & PACIFIC REGION
    Founded in 1936, the National Wildlife Federation has grown into America's largest and most trusted grassroots conservation organization with 53 state/territorial affiliates and more than...
  • STEWARDSHIP MANAGER
    STEWARDSHIP MANAGER Job Vacancy and Description Posted June 2, 2021: Open until filled The New Mexico Land Conservancy (NMLC) is a non-profit, regional land trust...
  • KSJD - MORNING EDITION HOST/REPORTER
    KSJD is seeking a host/reporter. Please see for www.ksjd.org for more information. EEO compliant.
  • ON THE EDGE OF CEDAR MESA/BEARS EARS
    Quiet, comfy house for rent in Bluff, Utah. Walk to San Juan River. Bike or hike to many nearby ruins and rock art sites. Beautiful...
  • CARPENTER AND LABORER WANTED.
    Come to Ketchikan and check out the Rain forest on the coast, Hike the shorelines, hug the big trees, watch deer in the muskeg meadows,...
  • PROJECT MANAGER
    Title: Project Manager Reports To: Program Director Salary Range: Negotiable; starting at $60,000 Location: Bend, OR The Deschutes River Conservancy seeks a Project Manager to...
  • PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    The Deschutes River Conservancy seeks a Program Director to join our dynamic team in restoring streamflow and improving water quality in the Deschutes Basin. WHO...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR - TWISPWORKS
    Established healthy nonprofit in the Methow Valley of Washington state, TwispWorks is hiring the next Executive Director. Terrific opportunity to strive for our mission to...
  • BOARD DIRECTOR
    Help us achieve our mission of promoting excellence in the professional practice of wilderness stewardship, science and education to ensure the life-sustaining benefits of wilderness....
  • TEMPORARY FULL-TIME RANCH OPERATIONS ASSISTANT
    Twin Willows Ranch in Ocate, NM is seeking to immediately fill a Temporary Full-Time employment position as Ranch Operations Assistant for Facilities, Equipment, Land, and...
  • RANCH OPERATIONS ASSISTANT
    Twin Willows Ranch in Ocate, NM is seeking an individual to fill the Regular Full-Time position of Resident Operations Assistant for Technology, Hospitality, Gardening, and...
  • CONSERVATION PROJECT MANAGER
    Conservation Project Manager Position Description Join Skagit Land Trust (the Trust), a not-for-profit conservation organization based in Mount Vernon, Washington, and help protect land for...
  • NOVA SCOTIA OCEAN FRONT
    Camp or Build on 2+ acres in Guysborough. FSBO. $36,000 US firm. Laurie's phone: 585-226-2993 EST.
  • TECHNICAL ADVISOR TO THE GOOD NEIGHBOR AGREEMENT
    Northern Plains Resource Council seeks an independent contractor to implement the Good Neighbor Agreement (GNA) between local communities and the Sibanye-Stillwater Mining Company in Montana....