Maybe the old saw that “a man’s word is his bond” is obsolete in today’s politics. I grew up in a time and place where a handshake is a contract, and a deal is a deal. But it just doesn’t seem to be true for lots of interest groups today, as we see all too often in the odd world of environmental policy. Many people have become reluctant to make agreements with their opponents, because they fear the “settled” agreement won’t stay “settled” past the ink-drying stage.
Witness last week’s lawsuit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, demanding the agency re-open the already-settled decision about “critical habitat” for the Canada Lynx. The agency studied the matter for more than a decade, sought and received input from thousands of interest groups, businesses, stakeholders, state and local governments, and interested individuals across the country. Very few species have been studied more closely over a longer time than the lynx. In the end, based on the best available science, the agency designated 39,000 square miles in Maine, Minnesota, Montana, Idaho, Washington and Wyoming as protected habitat. The population of lynx we introduced in Colorado provided much of the scientific evidence that the Southern Rockies are not critical to the animals’ survival. But that did not provide some extremists with the tools they sought for regulating human activity on public lands, so this week a group called the “Center for Native Ecosystems” filed suit to force the government to reconsider adding Colorado and New Mexico to the designated habitat, with no scientific basis whatsoever. Only time will tell whether the courts will defer to sound science and cool heads, but anyone can predict the millions taxpayers will spend on legal fees before it is settled – again. There are hundreds of examples like it every year.
At LeaderBridge we deal frequently with companies frustrated by such seemingly endless processes involving endangered species. The Endangered Species Act is the biggest tool in the toolbox for those who seek to stop business activity, and many business leaders wonder if there is ever an endgame. We show them ways to mitigate the impacts of their projects, negotiate the regulatory minefields, and even more important, ways to actually recover species so they can be removed from the endangered list, thereby removing the tool for stopping things.
We can’t force people to stick to agreements once made; we can’t force others to act with civility or keep their word. But there are plenty of ways to deal with the world as it is and ensure the right outcome.