Taiwanese Farmer Targeted For Violating Endangered Species Act
BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (AP) _ Taung Ming-Lin’s one acre of bamboo was supposed to be just the beginning of his American dream.
The Taiwanese immigrant had cultivated his remaining 719 acres in preparation for other vegetables to cater to Southern California’s booming Asian population.
Federal agents stopped him before he could plant his other crops.
Three months ago, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agents showed Lin a dead Tipton kangaroo rat, told him the rodent was found on his land and accused him of violating the Endangered Species Act.
Lin, 51, pleaded innocent to a federal charge of knowingly killing an endangered species and destroying its habitat. If convicted, he could be imprisoned for one year and fined $300,000.
″Just when he was ready to hit the gas and start to make his dream come true, these people descended on him like storm troopers,″ said Daniel Rudnick, Lin’s attorney.
Rudnick says his client is a symbol for farmers across the country who have endangered species on their land.
A farm in neighboring Tulare County pleaded guilty in April to the same charge, involving the endangered blunt-nosed leopard lizard. The owners of Tule Vista Farms handed over part of their land to the Fish and Wildlife Service in lieu of a $5,000 fine.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Karen Kalimanir says the government is simply enforcing the Endangered Species Act.
″We’re the caretakers and the stewards of the land, and we have no right to deny the existence of these endangered species,″ said Fish and Wildlife agent Roger Gephart.
The agency said it has no way of determining how many of the kangaroo rats survive, but a 1985 report said only 3.7 percent of the species’ habitat was still intact.
In a separate civil complaint filed against Lin, agents said they also observed blunt-nosed leopard lizards on Lin’s land about 100 miles north of Los Angeles.
Agents confiscated Lin’s $50,000 tractor. He still owes $37,000 on the machine, due by mid-June, said E.G. Berchtold, whose equipment company financed the purchase.
Except for the acre already planted with bamboo, grown for its tender shoots, Lin was told he can’t farm the land unless he gets state and federal permits.
Lin moved to the United States three years ago and bought the land from Tenneco Oil Co. Kern County officials and Tenneco representatives assured him the land could be farmed, said Lin’s son, Joseph.
Rudnick estimated Lin has spent more than $1 million for the land, the tractor and an irrigation system.
Farm manager Robert Sanchez lives on the farm with his wife and children and tends the bamboo for Lin, who also owns a bookbinding company in Southern California.
″This man is trying to create jobs,″ Sanchez said. ″Isn’t that what the government wants?″
Sanchez said he has never seen a Tipton rat or a blunt-nosed leopard lizard.
″The only thing I ever see here are rabbits,″ Sanchez said. ″Lots of rabbits.″
Lin, who does not speak English, suffered a mild stroke in April because of stress from the case, his son said.
A Kern County private property rights coalition has begun a fund-raising campaign to help Lin.
″Pretty soon there will be a duck in your pool and you’ll be in trouble,″ said Jean Plaster, co-owner of one farm. ″Big Brother is here.″