Despite the good intentions of the Endangered Species Act (ESA), it’s not an effective tool for protecting and bringing back species on the brink of extinction, according to a study by Utah State University and the think tank Strata Policy.
“You can measure the success of ESA in a few ways,” Megan Hansen, a policy director at Strata who was involved in the research, told The Daily Caller News Foundation.”One measure would be to track the recovery of listed species. If the purpose of the act is to promote the recovery of species, it is reasonable to suggest that the ESA has failed in that area. Over the span of more than 40 years, just 34 species out of more than 2,245 species have been delisted due to recovery efforts — accounting for just 1.5 percent of all species listed.”
The researchers think voluntary private action may be a viable alternative to help species recover, since reforming the ESA would be difficult. Such action would also help limit the negative economic and social impacts of ESA.
“[ESA] is a law that affects many thousands of property owners across the country,” Hansen said. “The act has been granted wide-reaching powers by federal courts and Congress, and while in some ways it has had a positive impact at stopping the decline of a few species, there is evidence to suggest that the act has been largely ineffective at ensuring recovery for species’ populations over the past 43 years.”
As it is currently implemented, the law puts much of the costs of protecting endangered species on citizens and private landowners. This discourages them from protecting the species.
“Other factors that we considered were the high costs for private landowners and local economies that are associated with complying with provisions of the ESA,” Hansen told TheDCNF. “It is well documented that the act often creates perverse incentives that discourage landowners from conserving species.”
In some cases, ESA can even cause landowners to actively kill endangered species, the exact opposite of the policy’s goals.
“[I]f a rancher discovers an endangered species on his property, he is faced with the choice to either self-report the discovery and risk facing steep fines or restrictions to the property, or he could take matters into his own hands and quietly eliminate the problem to prevent property loss for himself,” Hansen continued. “That is surely not the way the law was intended to work.”
Private actors are often more local and therefore have better relationships with local citizens than the federal government. These more local groups can often be much more flexible in how they handle endangered species, as they are not bound to the specific bureaucratic processes of the ESA. Additionally, private action can encourage citizens to protect endangered species voluntarily.
“After analyzing the problems associated with the ESA, we were intrigued with a number of case studies that showed ways individuals and organizations across the country were taking voluntary action to protect species,” Hansen stated. “We cover several of these case studies in the report.”
Most of the federal government’s attempts to enforce the ESA revolve around harsh punitive measures levied against landowners. Often, these measures harm both the landowner and the entire local community, which undermines support for conservation.
“Since the ESA was passed over four decades ago, the federal government’s approach to species conservation has been to restrict the actions of individuals and organizations through regulation, fines, and property restrictions,” Hansen noted. “This approach has created unintended consequences that often impose real costs on local economies and individuals that can negatively impact the same endangered species the ESA is meant to protect.”
These consequences include environmentalist groups like the Center For Biological Diversity (CBD) misusing ESA as a weapon against any development they don’t like. Green groups are able to sue the government demanding they protect a species under ESA, when their real intention is to stop a project. CBD even boasts on its website that these tactics intend to use ESA to end most oil and gas production in the U.S.
“Most people assume the only tool available to help species recover is government regulation, but another incredibly flexible and efficient tool has emerged in the form of individuals and organizations that care about species preservation and are doing something to help,” Hansen concluded. “These people put their own time, money, and effort into conserving endangered species by creating non-profit organizations with the goal of preserving species and their habitats through voluntary action.”
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