The Trail of American CROCODILE Tears

We have entered a new phase of unbridled slaughter in the name of jobs and money. (No, we’re not building another Transcontinental Railroad, though the border wall may well bear some similarity to that bloody project.)

Not only do we have a man at the helm of the agency tasked with protecting our environment whose own website brags that he is a leading activist against the agency’s agenda of advocating for the Anastasia Island beach mouse and the American alligator alike; last week, the U.S. Senate started debating the evisceration of the Endangered Species Act, like a bloodthirsty red wolf eyeing a juicy Everglades mink. If they succeed, it will mean death and extinction for many species such as these. In the hearing, senators railed about fed encroachment on states’ rights, saying it was unfair to landowners and an unnecessarily hindrance on mining companies’ ability to extract resources and create jobs, the Washington Post reported. Nice to see their priorities on display: fossil fuels before sea turtles.

Now is the time for fans of fish and fowl to resist those who would poison and pave our planet if it benefits the bottom line. ’Cause here’s the thing about endangered species: Once they’re gone, they’re gone forever. Ask the black rhinoceros — wait, you can’t.

For many years, people who call themselves conservatives but conserve one thing and one thing only — money — have whined about regulations that go too far, regulators who overstep right on the toes of the business interests who lord over their realm like a malevolent tyrant who cares only for the spoils of war and naught for the lives lost accumulating that treasure.

As much as environmentalists loath to admit it, there are some instances in which regulators go too far and create senseless, needless roadblocks to development or enforce boneheaded letter-of-the-law decisions, a phenomenon I heard someone recently refer to as “C students’ revenge,” meaning that mediocre students get back at their A and B counterparts by becoming EPA regulators. But we can’t stop protecting the environment because a few bureaucrats with pencils shoved too far up their butts exceed their authority. This is too important; lives are quite literally at stake. Today it’s the endangered rusty patched bumblebee; tomorrow it’s humans.

A few months ago, while enjoying a run in one of Northeast Florida’s beautiful parks, a ruckus up ahead stole focus from my constant watch for roots. Looking toward the noise, I saw a small black thing fly from the palmetto and through the longleaf pine, followed closely behind by a second, much larger creature.

Feeling betrayed by my sight, for my brain demanded that the creature had to be a raccoon, I stopped and stared at an animal poised mid-climb some 20 yards ahead. It was perhaps 6 to 7 feet long, not including the tail, and had a straw-colored coat. I stopped breathing when it turned and locked amber eyes on mine, seeming as surprised by my presence as I was by its. After a few spellbound seconds, I look a tentative step back, then another and another, then turned and slowly, deliberately, walked away. Just writing about it now brings back the sense of awe.

I will remember the day I became one of the lucky few to have seen a Florida panther in the wild forever. Estimates vary, but there may be as few as 80 or as many as 180 wild panthers left.

Is there a dollar amount that can honestly be given to an experience like this, a value we can give all the Key deer and Miami blue butterflies and Fat threeridges and Lobed star coral with which we share this peninsula? Is there a price we can put on a species, or a lump sum we would exchange for all the endangered and threatened species in America? If we are to believe the esteemed members of the Senate who seem content flipping the Florida grasshopper sparrow the bird, yes, as long as it’s enough to pay for their reelection campaigns.

A peer-reviewed 2014 study found that the extinction rate is currently 100 to 1,000 times higher than it should be. And now the Senate is considering measures that will only accelerate the steady march into oblivion many imperiled species now make, thanks to us humans.

How many more have to die before we admit that some things are more important than jobs and money? Things like the look of wonder that illuminates a child’s face the first time they see a creature unknown to them, like having clean water and air and land, like the soul-cleansing feeling of being alone in the wild with only the Earth’s creatures for company. If we don’t act today and tomorrow and all the tomorrows after that to stop politicians from giving away our national heritage for a campaign donation, someday a child will be alone in the place where the wild once was, without a Florida bog frog or a Georgia blind salamander or a gopher tortoise for company.