The federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) was enacted by the U.S. Congress in 1973, its express purpose being to recognize and protect threatened plants and animals. Reportedly, more than 1,300 species have been awarded classifications since the legislation's passage that give them a hands-off status, providing for their protection through the intervention of environmental groups and both state and federal courts.
Many farmers in California think that the protective legislation has gone too far. As noted in a recent national media article citing the effects of environmental legislation on California's drought-ridden agricultural communities, many state farmers "contend their jobs and livelihoods are the real casualties."
The ESA was applied "with a 1970's mindset," says one state water expert, who contends that the law needs to evolve to better reflect the modern-day realities of population pressures, food needs and related matters.
Many California farmers might put it another way. They might note that, while the ESA takes an acute interest in protecting a species such as the delta smelt, its efforts to do are threatening in fundamental ways the livelihoods of farmers and their families across a wide swath of California. Moreover, they are literally drying up the output of a wide range of agricultural products that large parts of the world rely upon.
If things don't change, says a spokesperson for one agricultural water supplier, "we will most likely see our food production turn to foreign soil."
Any outcome that even closely resembles that scenario would obviously be devastating for California and the long-time and centrally important role it has played as a global food supplier.
Large parts of California desperately need rain, of course. Many voices from within the state's agricultural community also argue that there is a tandem need for more informed and equitable environmental policies.