NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


September 25, 2007

The Endangered Species Act (ESA), passed in 1973, was designed to recover species to a level at which they are no longer considered endangered and therefore do not require the Act's protection. Unfortunately, the law has had the opposite effect on many species, says Brian Seasholes, an expert on wildlife, land use and property rights issues.

The greatest problem with the Act is its land-use control provisions. These provisions penalize public and private landowners by:

  • Fining landowners up to $100,000 and/or sentencing them to up to one year in jail for harming one eagle, owl, wolf or other protected species, or even its habitat, whether the habitat is occupied or not.
  • Prohibiting, or tightly regulating, otherwise normal and legal land uses, such as farming, lumbering, construction, human habitation or even visiting the land.
  • Providing no compensation to landowners for the loss of land value, loss of income or lost use of land.
  • Extending regulations to land that isn't currently occupied by an endangered species -- but might be suitable for the species' breeding, resting, roosting or feeding.
  • Subjecting millions of acres and millions of human residents to land use regulations for a single protected species.

Yet, private landowners are the key to successful endangered species conservation, because 78 percent of these species are found on private land. However, because landowners are penalized for harboring species, many of them take actions to rid their property of the species either by killing them or by applying a "scorched earth" policy that makes actual or potential habitat unsuitable through such activities as plowing, prematurely cutting trees or clearing brush.

Source: Brian Seasholes, "Bad for Species, Bad for People: What's Wrong with the Endangered Species Act and How to Fix It," National Center for Policy Analysis, Policy Report No. 303, September 2007.

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