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Monday, February 13, 2006


“Brown Mice!”

It was about two years ago when my brother was working up at the Cripple Creek gold mine. They were preparing to blast another section of the mountain. The watch officer called on all drivers to look for safety violations or hazardous conditions. My brother, seeing two little mice near his truck, got on the radio and yelled, “Brown Mice!” Initially, this stopped everything to be combined with laughter. Almost everyone on that crew was quite familiar with the issues with brown mice involved with the interchange in Monument. Then when the joking was over, it resulted in someone going to the ‘principal’s office.’

This would be a funny story if it weren’t for the fact that throughout the western states, this little brown acrobatic mouse has been holding up construction jobs in the name of conservation. The fate of protection for the Preble's Meadow Jumping Mouse has important implications in El Paso County. The northern portion of the county, especially along the Interstate 25 corridor, contains a good chunk of the 31,000 acres of mostly private land along Colorado’s Front Range that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Geological Survey have declared as areas of critical mouse habitat.

By no means am I advocating the destruction of a mouse for the sake of commerce. However, I have a disregard for a government that will dictate how private citizens use their land. Critical habitat is highly controversial, spawning lawsuits from groups such as the National Association of Home Builders and exemptions from the law for the military. Fortunately, the Fish and Wildlife Service has rarely opted to designate critical habitat on its own accord. Overall, it has not seen to be sensible to eliminate the free use of land strictly because a creature has been placed on the endangered or threatened list. However increasingly, it has been forced to issue designations under tight timelines as a result of litigation from environmental groups.

The developers and property owners of northern El Paso County should be given the freedom to use the land as they deem fit. However, if the regulations will not be revoked, then it is the responsibility of the government to make private citizens whole. Also, if the government dictates an alternate course of action for construction companies, the government should compensate for the deviation from the original plans.

The greatest issue here is a lack of trust. The bureaucrats and environmental lobbyists do not believe that the private citizen will make smart choices with respect to conservation. The approach that has been taken since the Endangered Species Act has been one of government’s coercive power. Instead of trying to control Americans’ lives from the cradle to the grave, these bureaucrats and lobbyists must choose a strategy of education. As Pope Pius XII said, “The American people have a great genius for splendid and unselfish acts.” When provided with a true problem, the populace and the market will find answers without government intervention.

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