Bad for Species, Bad for People: What’s Wrong with the Endangered Species Act and How to Fix It

Policy Reports | Energy and Natural Resources

No. 303
Saturday, September 01, 2007
by Brian Seasholes


If one deliberately set out to create a law that would do enormous damage to wildlife, it would be hard to top the ESA.  The time has come for all those serious about the conservation of imperiled species to tap the enormous good will, energy and talent of America's private landowners by charting a new course of endangered species protection based on the recognition that effective conservation starts with a legal framework that is not harmful, to the people who harbor species.

Much of the rest of the world is turning away from ESA-style conservation, but supporters of the Act continue to tout it as a beacon of hope.82  Calling the ESA a model for the world would be laughable if the law were not so detrimental to conservation in the United States and other countries.  Truly innovative approaches to wildlife conservation are taking place in the developing world, and to a more limited degree on private lands in the United States.  A new, progressive approach to wildlife conservation would at the very least not punish landowners for harboring wildlife.  Ideally, it would devolve ownership of wildlife to landowners and local governments, and allow commercial exploitation.

Once unshackled from the ESA, the dormant good will and creativity of America's landowners will blossom.  As evidence, one need only to look at the examples of Ben Cone, David Cameron, the Johnston's frankenia, the Conservation Reserve Program, the contrast between efforts to conserve the wood duck and blue bird with the spotted owl, the plains bison, polling data on the ESA, and successful conservation efforts outside the United States.  There are myriad more such examples, but their success remains largely unknown and their potential for paving the way toward a more successful ESA remains largely untapped.

“A new approach to conservation would devolve ownership of wildlife to landowners and local governments.”

A non-regulatory ESA would force the Service to negotiate in good faith and seek creative solutions instead of relying on the stick of regulations.  Some landowners might be happy simply with an honorary award from the Secretary of Interior while others would need financial compensation.  America's private landowners are ready, willing and able to conserve endangered species so long as they are not punished for doing so.  Until then, they will be the reserve army of the unutilized and unappreciated, and America's imperiled wildlife and landowners will continue to suffer needlessly.

NOTE: Nothing written here should be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the National Center for Policy Analysis or as an attempt to aid or hinder the passage of any bill before Congress.

Read Article as PDF