President’s Message

Unintended Consequences, Good and Bad

President George Hollister

Government’s response, at all levels, to the Corona Virus pandemic has been good. Certainly not perfect. But it is unreasonable to expect perfection in a national crisis that is new, unexpected, and unprepared for. We see government striving, on a daily basis to get it right. Old ways are challenged and changed. New ways are implemented and are measured by their effectiveness. Metrics for success are based on good outcomes for the public. Unintended consequences are mostly good.

A generation now knows the importance of thorough hand washing, staying at home when ill, covering your cough in your elbow, and being aware of touching your face. Someone might even invent, and market a spray that keeps one’s nose from itching, too. We hope everyone is doing their best to stay proactive and healthy while navigating these trying times.

Pandemic or not, Farm Bureau is continuing to work to represent the interests of farmers and ranchers. We are inherently constrained in our ability to represent the interests of the general public in those situations where farmers and ranchers are specifically being regulated by government. It’s not our place. But it is often, when the regulations we are burdened with have a significant, and obvious unintended consequence that is adverse to specific regulations’ intent, and the public interest. These unintended consequences seem to gain a life of their own, are often made worse, and are seldom, if ever, recognized and dealt with.

Mendocino County Farm Bureau has been dealing with three regulatory issues this year that have negative impacts on MCFB members, and could have, or have significant negative unintended consequences for the public: AB5, a new Wildlife Services contract, and Northern Spotted Owl regulations.

AB5 is a new California law that is supposed to help workers. To some extent, I am sure it does do that, but from my view in Mendocino County, those being helped are eclipsed by those who have either lost their livelihoods, or are threatened by the potential of losing their livelihoods as a direct result of AB5. The trucking industry was particularly impacted but received an uncertain reprieve from a judge. Many people working in the timber industry, in general, are threatened by this law, beyond the trucking of logs. So, we have a new law that is supposed to help workers, but the unintended consequence is that it mostly hurts, and needs to be changed. Will it?

Mendocino County is working to help implement a new Wildlife Services contract for this county that includes a lethal option for control of problem wildlife. There is sincere opposition to this contract that wants a nonlethal option only. Without the contract, what option do farmers, ranchers, homeowners, and citizens have? “We keep quiet, and take care of the problem ourselves”, is what I often hear. We should all know what that means. So we have well intended, and sincere opposition to a Wildlife Services Contract that is professionally run, primarily provides non-lethal consultation, but uses a targeted lethal option when needed. Where is the consideration for the likely unintended consequence if Mendocino County doesn’t have a Wildlife Services contract, and what that means for the lethal control reality?

Well known to farmers and ranchers across America, is the federal Endangered Species Act. In California we also have the California Endangered Species Act (CESA). It would seem obvious that partnering with farmers and ranchers is necessary to prevent the extinction of certain plants and animals, yet the ESA and CESA does exactly the opposite, making a government known endangered species a liability to have on one’s property. It’s as if every ESA, and CESA Recovery Plan begins with, “let’s make sure no property owner wants this endangered species on their ownership”.

ESA listed Northern Spotted Owls (NSOs) have been one focus for ESA regulations on timber harvesting on California’s north coast for the last 30 years. Annual pre-logging surveys have been conducted, and overseen by professional biologists, paid by tree farmers over that 30-year period. The 40-year-old science that is the basis for the listing of NSOs is now out of date, partially due to information from these surveys. Yet key aspects of that old science continues to be used by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). Now NSOs actually do have a threat to their survival, competition from the encroachment of Barred Owls that have migrated, on their own, from East of the Rocky Mountains. But in order to deal with this real Barred Owl threat, USFWS has doubled down by continuing to increase indefinitely the number of no-logging zones, called NSO activity centers, even though logging the way it has been done in the last 30 years is compatible with thriving NSO populations. The unintended consequence of the USFWS activity center policy is that it is now in the interest of tree farmers, without NSO activity centers, to prevent them from occurring on their property. And the best way to ensure that is to have BARRED Owls instead.

How do we have government, at all levels, that responds as it is now doing in confronting the Coronavirus pandemic; where there are good unintended consequences, and not bad; where bad unintended consequences are anticipated, or immediately recognized and corrected; where outdated science and policies are replaced with new? This should be a subject for discussion, if we want successful outcomes from regulations. But first we need to recognize the problem. It cannot be overstated how big it is.