In a recent post I explained my reasons for opposing the captive breeding of the gravely endangered California condor; and, by extension, my reasons for opposing the imprisonment of any endangered creature whose life in the wild cannot reasonably be duplicated in captivity. “And so, to the obvious,” I concluded:
If California condors are not bred in captivity, the species may in some dark future year go extinct, to be remembered by those of us who are alive today and by our descendants as a remarkable but unlucky species. Such an outcome would be a tragedy of immense proportions. Not only would we lose condors, we would be compelled to confront the disquieting fact that our pesticides and our second homes in the mountains and our bullets were responsible for their demise. Which would be better now--for us to continue to involve condors in a face-saving scheme that trades the freedom of many of the birds alive today for the dubious promise of those that may or may not be born tomorrow; or for us to dedicate ourselves to the creation and preservation of wild places where animals can live out their lives naturally, unthreatened by pesticides, second homes, and bullets, where they can stretch out and learn the lay of the land, where they can breed in peace? [i]
Distressing words, these. When I wrote them it was hard to imagine that any such wild places could be found. Certainly in the current administration in Washington there’s no thirst for new or expanded national parks, wildlife refuges, national monuments, or other such havens; least of all any that would prohibit pesticides, second homes, bullets, and human interference--places where animals could stretch out and learn the lay of the land. On the contrary, all momentum at the national level is in the opposite direction.
So get ready for a miracle (drum roll). Herewith, a man who is poised to create a prototype for a network of wild places that will meet all of the above criteria and more. Introducing...STAN KROENKE!!!
Maybe you’ve heard of Stan Kroenke. He owns the Denver Nuggets of the NBA, the Los Angeles Rams of the NFL, the Colorado Avalanche of the NHL, plus teams in Major League Soccer, the National Lacrosse League, and English Premier League Football. Stan Kroenke has a lot of money. His Wikipedia bio says that his first job was sweeping the floor at his father's lumber yard and that by age 10 he was keeping the company's books. He got a good education, which, he says, contributed to his success. In December 2016, Forbes estimated his net worth at $7.4 billion and named him the 58th richest person in the United States.
So, all of Stan Kroenke’s hard work paid off. (Possible alternate explanation for his success: He married Ann Walton, an heiress to the Wal-Mart fortune.) [ii]
Besides buying professional sports franchises, Stan Kroenke likes to buy land. In 2016, for around $725 million, he bought the Waggoner Ranch in Texas, a 530,000-acre parcel that spans six counties. His total land holdings now stand at 1.3 million acres, making him the fifth largest private land owner in the country.
Now, it happens that there’s a lake on the Waggoner Ranch called Lake Diversion. For decades, several hundred people have lived near the lake under an unusual agreement: they owned their homes, but they leased the land on which their homes stood. Shortly after finalizing his purchase of the ranch, Kroenke notified the homeowners that he intended to allow the ranch to return to its natural state, and that they had until January 31, 2017, to get out. Because they leased the land, they would receive no remuneration for their losses. However, they were free to take their homes with them if they so desired. [iii] This was good news for people with motor homes. Also for turtles.
Here are some numbers to give a sense of the extent of Stan Kroenke’s Texas spread:
Waggoner Ranch Area: ~ 530,000 acres or ~ 830 square miles
North Cascades National Park Area: ~ 505,000 acres or ~ 790 square miles
Kings Canyon National Park Area: ~ 462,000 acres or ~ 720 square miles
Sequoia National Park Area: ~ 404,000 acres or ~ 630 square miles
Shenandoah National Park Area: ~ 200,000 acres or ~ 310 square miles
Earlier this year, Kroenke launched “My Outdoor TV” in the United Kingdom, a “sickening” (adjective courtesy of the British newspaper The Independent) bloodsports television channel that featured films of hunters going after elephants, lions, and other African wildlife. In one show, a huntress named Jana Waller kills a hartebeest in South Africa with a bow and arrow. The animal runs away after being struck but eventually bleeds to death. “It’s a good shot,” says Ms. Waller’s guide as the two wait for the animal to die. “Definitely some liver and some lungs hit.” [iv]
I mention “My Outdoor TV” only to suggest that Stan Kroenke may be a fan of guns. This suggests that he may also be a fan of Article 2 of the United States Constitution, which suggests that he may at least distantly be familiar with Article 5, which says that for the purpose of “public use,” the government can kick you off your land, Kroenke-like, through the agency of eminent domain if it desires to do so, so long as it compensates you justly. [v]
Voila! We arrive at last at the pathway to scores of protected areas for endangered species: a coast-to-coast network of wildlife refuges, each protecting species fitted for the location, each secured through the generosity of eminent domain. (At times like the present, when the federal government might be unwilling to act, states and cities have comparable eminent domain powers.) As for the requirement that lands can be seized for “public use” only, this can be done by fiat. The relevant governmental body simply declares that the parcel addresses the public’s desire to protect endangered species. If data are needed, polls or even ballot measures can be implemented. Imagine the results of a referendum asking voters to choose between two possible uses for the 830-square-mile Waggoner Ranch:
(A) Saving elephants, giraffes, and lions from extinction; or
(B) Providing a place half the size of Rhode Island for Stan Kroenke to whoop it up with his buds.
A Waggoner refuge will make a perfect home for animals of the African savanna. To accommodate endangered animals of the Pacific Northwest, the Archie Aldis Emmerson family’s nearly 2 million acres in California and Washington will do. The K.C. Irving family has 1.2 million acres in northern Maine where a raft of endangered species including lynx and peregrine falcons could find refuge. (See http://www.landreport.com/americas-100-largest-landowner for information on the sizes, locations, and owners of the top 100 land holdings in the United States.) In accordance with the requirements of eminent domain law, all current land owners of a given parcel would be paid fairly for their land and given until, say, January 31 of the following year to get out. On February 1, before management of the refuge had begun, before wildlife biologists and ecologists and geographers had had opportunities to assess the land, a sign something like the following would be hung on a tree at the edge of the refuge:
This is a place where animals can live out their lives naturally,
unthreatened by pesticides, second homes, and bullets,
where they can stretch out and learn the lay of the land,
where they can breed in peace.
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Following a huge public outcry against Stan Kroenke’s TV channel, Kroenke ordered that all bloodsport programs be cancelled. [vi]
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[The following is reprinted from Watt’s News, my 1981 parody that lampooned Ronald Reagan’s Secretary of the Interior James Watt and his minions.]
Novel Plan for Montana Forests
WASHINGTON – Calling it “the ugliest ding-dong, cock-a-doodle state I ever did see,” chief of the Forest Service John Crowell today announced plans to clear-cut Montana.
“We’ll strip that sucker smoother’n a baby’s bum,” said Crowell, who also favors setting fire to Idaho.
Crowell, former general counsel to Louisiana-Pacific lumber company, described himself as a “friend of trees.” “Those poor buggers get cold out there in the forest,” he said. “The kind thing to do is to move them to someplace warm, like a sawmill.”
Asked if clear-cutting Montana might not lead to hillside erosion, Crowell replied, “That’s a dumb question. You’re an idiot.”
A reporter asked if the plan might not adversely affect fish and wildlife populations in Montana.
“You goof,” said Crowell. “Your wife wears a girdle.”
The plan calls for the introduction of new cash crops to Montana once the slow-growing trees have been removed. Several crops have been tested, including coffee.
“We needed a coffee expert so we brought in Juan Valdez from Colombia,” said Crowell. “Cute little guy. We paid him five bucks a day plus all the tacos he could eat. I asked him if they had Maxwell House down there but he no comprendo.”
After consulting with Valdez and others, however, Crowell determined that Montana is best suited to tapioca farming. The Forest Service plans to import 10,000 laborers from Brazil and Java who are experienced in growing the pudding. According to Crowell, these people are used to cold weather and will enjoy sleeping out in the fields. He explained that although tapioca normally grows on flat terrain in tropical climates, scientists at the Department of Agriculture believe that the dessert can adapt to conditions in Montana.
“Of course, we may have to kill all the insects up there,” he cautioned. “Also your smaller mammals like your carnivores and your herbivores. If that doesn’t work, we can make it warmer by reversing the Humboldt Current.”
Crowell added that the Air Force has worked out a way to make Montana flatter, and that that too might be tried.
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