The Endangered Species Act Meets My Apartment: My Summer in Environmental Law

BY KATIE MAPES

I spent my summer at an environmental non-profit in Anchorage. Alaska is, of course, a great place to do environmental law because it has a long and proud history as a place where humanity interacts with nature on its grandest scale.

By which I mean we kill it, obviously. When was the last time you saw a woolly mammoth? (Archaeologists have recently unearthed a Zagat’s guidebook found frozen in the permafrost that they believe dates back to 12,000 B.C.. Apparently Japanese infused mammoth steakhouses were the ice age choice for lavish summer associate lunches.)

Of course, as a SPIF recipient working in a public interest job, I traded a substantial summer salary for a get-out-of-moral-ambiguities-free card. So when I headed out to Alaska, I figured I was set – species extinction is for people who work at Cravath, right?

But then things took a deadly turn.

It all began with my apartment. While a basement level “garden apartment” was ideal for blocking out the light of the 23 hour days, any real estate agent can tell you that “garden” is a synonym for “fully compliant with the American Insect Accessibility Act.” And as an environmental law intern, my consciousness about such issues was at an all time high.

So you can imagine that when a close read of the Endangered Species Act made me aware that at least one of the approximately 900 species of arachnids in my apartment was probably endangered, I was a bit concerned. I did some quick checking with an entomologist down at the University of Alaska (after swearing him to secrecy, of course), and what I discovered horrified me.

What I had in my sink was the last known colony of Alaskan Basement Apartment Leaping Spiders in the world.

A rare creature, known for its propensity for jumping out from behind a dirty plate, terrifying the living daylights out of me, and ensuring that I never wash dishes again, the entomologist was delighted! Never had he seen these magnificent creatures alive in such numbers. Why, clean out the dishes, replace the carpet with a savannah, train a camera or two on the sink, and the Discovery Channel dollars would just fall into his lap!

I struggled with whether to report my findings to the EPA. In my mind’s eye, I could see a nightmare scenario unfolding before me:

Before I knew it, I imagined, the Alaskan Basement Apartment Leaping Spider would be on the Endangered Species list and my apartment designated as critical habitat. And there I would be, living in the middle of the National Alaskan Basement Apartment Leaping Spider Wilderness Preserve.

Then the tour buses would start. While, in the right mood, retirees in trekking gear can actually be charming, nobody needs people hawking souvenirs in your living room at 8:00 am on a weekend, much less spider shaped ones.

Worst of all, though, the section 7 takings clause means my preferred arachnid control method of standing on the other side of the room and lobbing heavy objects at them until they die would be completely off limits.

Really, the whole situation would be intolerable. The best I could hope for was that someone would discover oil reserves underneath my sink so that we could get a congressional exemption for a drilling rig in there (which I’d personally prefer to the Leaping Spiders any day of the week).

But, gradually, as I continued my internship, I learned that my fears were unfounded. In order for my spiders to be designated as endangered, somebody was basically going to have to sue. And the only group that would be willing to sue was Friends of the Alaskan Basement Apartment Leaping Spider. And they’d have to find a competent board of directors who weren’t already too busy with Friends of Animals that Are Cute and Furry, and a legal staff that wasn’t holding out for three times as much money elsewhere. That accomplished, there’d be a long drawn out petition process with EPA, which they’d lose. They’d have to file a 60-day notice of intent to sue, then sue, then appeal.

Alright, they’d probably win in the Ninth Circuit, a temporary setback to be sure, and the inevitable petition for rehearing would probably be denied, despite a passionate dissent by Judge Kozinski. But I had faith that eventually the whole thing would be overturned by the Supreme Court anyway, leaving me to lob shoes at skittery things in the night in peace.

Thus, I was able to report the Alaskan Basement Apartment Leaping Spider to the EPA with a clear conscience. Immediately after, I poured a bottle of Draino down my sink to make sure the suckers were really dead. All I can say is: thank you, machinery of the vast, bureaucratic regulatory state. Thank you and God bless.

Katie Mapes, 2L, loved her summer job, but did not love the Alaskan Basement Apartment Leaping Spiders.

Comments