News from the Secretary

News from the Secretary by Larry Gabriel S.D. Secretary of Agriculture Are you watching your step?

"Watch your step" is something most farmers and ranchers have said to city folks who were visiting the place. It was always good advice, but now it has a whole new meaning.

That bug or plant in your patch just might have more legal protections than your farm or ranch.

Like other states, South Dakota has its own list of rare, threatened or endangered species. On this list are 26 mammals, 35 fish, 80 birds, 20 reptiles, six amphibians, 15 bugs and about 150 plants.

It is amazing to me that so few people could pose a threat to so many. We tried for a hundred years, by every means we could think of, to get rid of some pesky little prairie rodents and yet they seem to be doing just fine.

Maybe there is some kind of unspoken law of nature that rules life on the plains: When the government tries to get rid of something, it can't be done, and when the government wants to preserve a thing, it disappears.

Many of the species protections don't bother me at all. Protecting chicken hawks is fine, as long as I don't raise chickens. Protecting mountain lions is fine, as long as my horse is not eaten by one.

Protecting a few bats is alright, as long as my child does not get rabies from one. Such things don't affect me one way or the other, most of the time.

However, when Congress tells me to watch my step because my boot (or my cow or my horse) might step on a bug or plant that is important to someone's constituents (the federal agencies now lovingly call them "clients"), then I think they are getting out of hand.

Back when we created the federal government, we gave them their own little place to stay (to keep them out of our hair) and a few duties that were too big for the state governments to handle. Things like: regulating trade among the states and with foreign governments and protecting us from invasions.

How we ever got from that arrangement to having a Congress that regulates bugs is beyond me. I don't even know why they want an "American Burrowing Beetle" that eats dead birds. Especially since many of the birds are as protected as the bug that wants you to kill them.

But at least the American Burrowing Beetle is an interesting bug. It seems that museums and nature collections from all over the eastern half of the United States have samples of this little black-with-orange-spots bug, and yet modern biologists can't seem to find live ones in those areas.

It is a great mystery to the biologists, who in keeping with the international conventions which allow "suspected" population declines to serve as the basis for concluding that a species is threatened with extinction, concluded that some mystery cause is wiping out this bug.

At first they thought this bug still exists only in two states in the whole country, but they found some more. Now, they are up to seven states including South Dakota.

It may be just a coincidence, but biologists tend to have day jobs and the bug works at night. Meet me at the State Fair and we will talk more about it.

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