Federal Suit is Act 1 in Theater of the Absurd

By Tony Snow

July 14, 2000

Somebody call Stephen King!

The U.S. government has filed suit in a California federal district court against a tractor and a disc (an appliance used to break up chunks of soil). Uncle Sam has ordered the possessed implements to surrender on charges that they ground up animals that may appear on the government’s endangered species list.

The case of “United States of America, Plaintiff, vs. One Ford Tractor, Mdl VC715V, Unit OH22B, Engine OH16A, its tools and appurtenances thereon, One Towner Offset Disc, Model A248, Serial Number 24C665, its tools and appurtenances thereon, Defendant(s)” marks one of the most bizarre episodes in modern environmentalism, challenged only by Washington’s assault on the machinery’s owner, Taung Ming-Lin.

Lin, an immigrant from Taiwan, arrived in the United States three years ago. He purchased 720 acres of desert land near Bakersfield, Calif., with plans to grow herbs and vegetables on the barren soil. He laid out his farm, hired some help and asked local officials if everything was OK. They told him: The land is zoned for agriculture. Grow what you want. Create jobs. Welcome to America!

Little did they know that federal agents had their eyes on Lin, who had no idea that his property was listed as natural habitat for the Tipton kangaroo rat, a member of the endangered species club. The feds keep such information secret and inform property owners of their legal liability only when they try to do something potentially criminal, like plowing a field.

On Feb. 20, a squadron of more than two dozen state and federal agents, accompanied by helicopters, descended upon the farm. They raced through fields taking pictures and looking for animal parts. They reportedly ordered a reluctant county fire department employee to haul away the scofflaw tractor and disc.

Five weeks later, the government told a court that Lin “did knowingly take and aid and abet the taking of an endangered species of wildlife, to wit, Tipton kangaroo rats.” Last week, they threw in counts of harming San Joachin kit foxes and blunt-nosed leopard lizards.

The interesting thing is that the feds still do not know whether the animals they seized in February were Tipton kangaroo rats, which are virtually identical to some nonendangered rodents. The only thing that distinguishes them from the Herman’s kangaroo rat, for instance, is that their rear feet are 1-100th of an inch longer — and they can be used as an excuse to seize private property.

Furthermore, Tipton kangaroo rats actually prefer plowed to uncultivated fields. Varmints all over the state have begun abandoning brush in favor of airier climes, and local farmers report that the vermin breed zestfully in churned up soil. No matter: Agents seized the murderous farm tools and threatened to fine Lin $300,000 — whereupon he had a mild stroke.

This sort of behavior is not unusual. The government has filed charges against Valley Communities Inc., also in Kern County, claiming that its operators have threatened Tipton kangaroo rats and blunt-nosed leopard lizards by plowing and irrigating fields. (A lawyer in the case says, “I know of no dead (animal) bodies.”) If the Clinton administration wins the case, the city of Bakersfield may have to shut down part of its sewer system, since the water to treat the land comes from a city waste treatment plant.

Environmental officials also have asked the county to erect a $150,000 mesh fence outside a landfill, out of anxiety that Kangaroo rats might tumble in and injure themselves.

Such orders have turned the area into a hotbed of rebellion. A group called the Coalition to Protect and Preserve Private Property Rights organized a full-day festival, complete with a tractorcade/demonstration, property rights rally, barbecue fund-raiser and western dance/auction — in hopes of preserving a few endangered agrarians.

Meanwhile, the Kern County Board of Supervisors has endorsed a resolution that “deplores the outrageous and abusive behavior of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service toward Mr. Lin, Valley Communities and other private property owners under cover of the Endangered Species Act, and calls upon the president and the Congress to immediately investigate what appears to be a gross misuse of authority and deprivation of due process by an unelected bureaucracy.”

Tony Snow writes for Creators Syndicate,
5777 W. Century,
Suite 700,
Los Angeles, Calif. 90045
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16 jul 2000