NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Endangered Species Act Not Particularly Effective

October 11, 2011

For all its strength, the Endangered Species Act (ESA) has not been particularly effective at conserving endangered and threatened species, says Jonathan H. Adler, a professor and director of the Center for Business Law and Regulation at Case Western Reserve University School of Law.

The ESA's stated purpose is to "conserve" threatened and endangered species, meaning "the use of all methods and procedures which are necessary to bring any endangered species or threatened species to the point at which the measures provided pursuant to this Act are no longer necessary."  In other words, the express aim of the Act is to recover all imperiled species to the point at which the Act's protection is no longer necessary.  Are species recovering?

  • In 1973 there were only 78 species on the endangered and threatened lists; by 1994 there were over 1,000.
  • As of August 2009, 47 species had been removed from the endangered and threatened species lists: 21 were deemed "recovered," 17 removed due to technical errors and 9 removed due to extinction.

It bears mention that not all credit for "recovered" species can be taken by the ESA -- many of these species benefitted from separate environmental regulations such as the ban on DDT, and others were foreign species and therefore unaffected by ESA regulations.

The inability of the ESA to facilitate species' recovery after they have been listed is based largely on their poor relationship with private landowners.

  • While the ESA has substantial latitude in dealing with public land and government agencies in order to regulate their actions so as to limit detrimental impacts on affected species, private landowners remain resistant.
  • This is largely because regulators can greatly limit a landowner's ability to make use of his resources if a protected species establishes a habitat there.
  • In order to preempt this, private landowners have on multiple occasions consciously destroyed the ecological value of their land in order to make it less attractive to these species.

In order to mitigate this incentive and improve its efficacy, the ESA needs to be revamped so as to provide some sort of compensation to landowners in exchange for their cooperation.

Source: Jonathan H. Adler, "The Leaky Ark," The American, October 5, 2011.

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