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In his 1992 best-seller, “The Way Things Ought To Be,” Rush Limbaugh wrote: “With the collapse of Marxism, environmentalism has become the new refuge of socialist thinking. The environment is a great way to advance a political agenda that favors central planning and an intrusive government. What better way to control someone’s property than to subordinate one’s private property rights to environmental concerns.”

At the time, this sounded like hyperbole. But it wasn’t. Limbaugh’s warning was worthy and prophetic. I realized this a few years ago when I came across a story concerning Taiwanese immigrant Taung Ming-Lin, a farmer in Kern County, Calif., who was arrested for allegedly running over an “endangered” kangaroo rat while tilling his own land. His tractor was seized and held for over four months, and he faced a year in jail and a $200,000 fine.

A U.S. Fish and Wildlife agent asserted, “We’re the caretakers and the stewards of the land, and we have no right to deny the existence of these endangered species.”

As time has passed, it is now clear that what happened to the farmer in Kern County was not an anomaly, but part of a developing pattern of government invasion of private rights. What the Fish and Wildlife agent said was not just a misguided personal opinion – he was stating official U.S. government policy.

On April 7, 2001, the federal government’s Bureau of Reclamation cut off irrigation water to 1,500 family farms in the Klamath Basin on the Oregon-California border. Based on “citizen lawsuits” filed by environmental activists, all the available water will go to save fish, primarily the sucker fish. A federal judge denied an appeal by the farmers saying, “Congress has spoken in the plainest of words, making it abundantly clear that the balance has been struck in favor of affording endangered species the highest of priorities.”

While the farmers are going bankrupt, the legal bills of the environmentalists are paid for by the American taxpayers under the “citizen lawsuit” provisions of the Endangered Species Act.

Meanwhile, based on a successful lawsuit filed by the Earth Justice Legal Defense Fund, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has just designated 4.1 million acres as critical habitats for the endangered California red-legged frog. Nearly 70 percent of the acres are private property.

The protected habitats hopscotch across 28 California counties, including key agricultural counties, adding layers of new regulations on already over-regulated private land. No activity of any kind on this land will be permitted until it has been proven that such activity will in no way affect the well-being of the beloved red-legged frog.

Another endangered critter wreaking damage in California is the fairy shrimp, which thrives in what environmentalists call “vernal pools” and what ordinary folk call standing water or mud puddles. Anyway, when these puddles evaporate, the fairy shrimp eggs nest in the mud until the next seasonal rains hatch them.

Apparently the deal is this: If you drain or spray standing water, you get an award from the mosquito-control people and a summons from the fairy-shrimp police.

The protection of these “vernal pools” is a nightmare to California farmers, developers, and even local governments. For example, environmental concerns for the shrimp cost Fresno County a six-month, $250,000 delay in the construction of an important freeway. However, that’s cheap compared to the undisclosed cost of moving the site of a major new University of California campus in Merced, Calif., because there are too many vernal pools on it.

California is the nation’s largest producer of food crops and commodities, including fruits, nuts, vegetables, melons, livestock and dairy products. This massive agricultural industry depends entirely on irrigation for water. In California, rainfall is slight or non-existent from early May to mid-October.

Land regulations, fuel costs and electrical shortages are disastrous to farmers. But the most critical issue for them and for all Californians is water. The eco-inspired ban on the construction of dams and water storage facilities to catch the runoff from winter rains and spring snow melts is limiting the supply of water even as demand for it is surging. It is a disaster in the making. Deja vu!

While there is local outrage in California and elsewhere over these abuses, there is little national outrage. One hopes this is due to a lack of coverage by the mainstream media, rather than a fatalistic American submission to state socialism. One fears that only in retrospect, when it is too late to resist, will it be understood that freedoms have been irretrievably forfeited and the Constitution irreversibly abandoned.

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