Residents of the rural West, particularly communities with economies currently based or previously based on natural resources and resource extraction, can have a different take on protections triggered by the Endangered Species Act than perhaps people in a New York City coffee shop.

Which is why people in our neck of the woods will have an interest in the Trump administration’s latest proposal to change the ESA to allow the government to put an economic cost on saving a species.

This is as major of a change as possible. Right, now the ESA expressly prohibits factoring in economic impact when determining ESA protections.

The main question that comes to mind is, economic cost to whom?

Can a multinational corporation challenge the act on the basis that it is not able to maximize the revenue potential of a swath of land?

Or is it the economic impact of an independent logger not being able to make a payment on his rig because of harvest restrictions?

A person might say the two are connected, but it is much more likely that our landscape will be altered by the demands and profit desires of large and likely remote corporations than it will be by the need of our neighbors to make a living.

Kittitas County and many of the forested counties in this state can testify to the impact of spotted owl protections on timber-resource based economies. But there is a connection, as well, between corporations harvesting land at a higher rate in the 1980s to meet profit needs of shareholders and the push to protect habitat.

Timber is a good example of the complexity of a simple statement like “economic impact.” Timber counties in the region lost not only jobs in the forests, but timber mills as well. We feel the loss of local mills today as we look for economical ways to harvest timber thinned from overgrown forests.

If you connect the decrease in timber harvesting with the increase in forest fire threat and then calculate the combined cost of timber industry losses with fire fighting expenses, it probably exceeds easy mathematical computation.

So, is that our economic impact?

But what about the cost of having a clear cut swath of land rather than the Suncadia resort. Or the cost of having a beautifully scenic forested Roslyn instead nestled against a hillside scraped of vegetation. Or, the impact of having little growth in people building homes in the countryside while commuting to West Side jobs. Or the lost opportunities of not having land locked up under Nature Conservancy stewardship or not having state-owned Teanaway Community Forest?

Would we see our lives in this county the same way if we saw fewer trees? That one might be hard to calculate.

The flaw of the ESA as currently constructed is it does not take into account the lives of the people with a vested interest in maintaining land not just for today but for generations to come. The danger is flipping the ESA to granting too much power to entities with no interest in the land other than how much revenue it can generate this quarter. In both scenarios the people living on and with the land suffer.

The latest Trump administration proposal will be challenged and it will be played out in political and judicial arenas. Again, those of us in the rural West will be interested spectators.

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