'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
  • COMMUNITY OUTREACH MANAGER
    High Country News (HCN) is looking for a Community Outreach Manager to reach and forge new relationships with individuals and groups who represent communities historically...
  • NEW BOOK:
    True Wildlife Tales From Boy to Man. Finding my voice to save wildlife in the Apache spirit. 365+ vivid colorful pictures. Buy on Amazon/John Wachholz
  • CHIEF OPERATIONS OFFICER
    with Rural Community Assistance Corporation. Apply here: https://www.marcumllp.com/executive-search/chief-operations-officer-rcac
  • CLIMATE JUSTICE FELLOW
    High Country News, an award-winning magazine covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks applicants for a climate justice fellowship. The fellowship...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Wild Rockies Field Institute is seeking a visionary Executive Director to lead the organization in Missoula, Montana. Individuals with a proven track record in...
  • LAND AND WATER CONSERVATION DIRECTOR
    The Land and Water Conservation Director is a full-time salaried position with the Mountain Area Land Trust in Evergreen, CO. The successful candidate will have...
  • ARIZONA PROGRAM MANAGER
    National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), the nation's oldest and largest national parks nonprofit advocacy organization seeks an Arizona Program Manager. The Arizona Program Manager works...
  • CROWN OF THE CONTINENT COMMUNITY CONSERVATION SPECIALIST
    THE WILDERNESS SOCIETY is seeking a Community Conservation Specialist, for the Crown of the Continent DEPARTMENT: Conservation CLASSIFICATION: Grade 6 Specialist/Representative (Low of $54K) REPORTS...
  • ASSISTANT FARM DIRECTOR
    About The Organization Building community through fresh vegetables is at the heart of the Sisters-based non-profit, Seed to Table Oregon. Based on a four-acre diversified...
  • CARPENTER WANTED
    CARPENTER WANTED. Come to Ketchikan and check out the Rainforest on the coast, Hike the shorelines, hug the big trees, watch deer in the muskeg...
  • DYNAMIC EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    VARD is seeking an Executive Director to lead a small legal & planning staff dedicated to the health and sustainability of Teton Valley Idaho and...
  • WATER PROJECT MANAGER, UPPER SAN PEDRO (ARIZONA)
    Based in Tucson or Sierra Vista, AZ., the Upper San Pedro Project Manager develops, manages, and advances freshwater conservation programs, plans, and methods focusing on...
  • CAMPAIGNS DIRECTOR
    Southeast Alaska Conservation is hiring. Visit https://www.seacc.org/about/hiring for info. 907-586-6942 [email protected]
  • FINANCE & GRANTS MANAGER
    The Blackfoot Challenge, located in Ovando, MT, seeks a self-motivated, detail-oriented individual to conduct bookkeeping, financial analysis and reporting, and grant oversight and management. Competitive...
  • WADE LAKE CABINS, CAMERON MT
    A once in a lifetime opportunity to live and run a business on the shore of one of the most beautiful lakes in SW Montana....
  • CONTRIBUTING EDITOR, BOOKS, CULTURE AND COMMENTARY (PART-TIME, CONTRACT)
    High Country News is seeking a Contributing Editor for Books, Culture and Commentary to assign and edit inquisitive, inspiring, and thought-provoking content for HCN in...
  • STATEWIDE COMMUNITY ORGANIZER
    ABOUT US Better Wyoming is a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy organization that educates, organizes, and mobilizes Wyoming residents on behalf of statewide change. Learn more at...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    TwispWorks is a 501(c)3 that promotes economic and cultural vitality in the mountainous Methow Valley, the eastern gateway to North Cascades National Park in Washington...
  • CLEAN ENERGY ADVOCATE OR DIRECTOR
    Location: Helena, Montana Type: Permanent, full time after 1-year probationary period. Reports to: Director of Policy and Legislative Affairs. Travel: Some overnight travel, both in-state...
  • PROFESSIONAL GIS SERVICES
    Custom Geospatial Solutions is available for all of your GIS needs. Affordable, flexible and accurate data visualization and analysis for any sized project.