NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

A Better Way to Preserve Endangered Species

October 2, 2014

The Endangered Species Act (ESA) was passed in 1973 to protect endangered animals, yet there is ongoing debate over whether the ESA is achieving its goals. Brian Seasholes, Director of the Endangered Species Project at the Reason Foundation, argues for a new approach in protecting wildlife.

While the ESA is aimed at improving the survival of species, it carries such hefty penalties that landowners, seeking relief from the strict regulations, actually try to rid their lands of the endangered animals. For example:

  • Farmers in California routinely work the soil on their land rather than leaving it alone, in order to prevent the development of a habitat for endangered animals. According to one farmer, "Because of the Endangered Species Act we disc everything, all the time. We are afraid of an endangered species moving in. It costs $25 per acre [to disc]. It's not cheap. But the risk of not doing it is too great."
  • In the Pacific Northwest, landowners cut down timber for fear of creating a habitat. For example, one landowner clear cut his timber a decade before he should have, because he knew that there were owls nearby that might otherwise settle in his trees.
  • In central Texas, landowners cleared out thousands of acres of ashe juniper, in which two birds listed under the ESA lived, following their listing. According to the Director of Resource Protection for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Dr. Larry McKinney, "I am convinced that more habitat for the black-capped vireo, and especially the golden-cheeked warbler, has been lost in those areas of [central] Texas since the listing of these birds than would have been lost without the ESA"

These are just a few examples of the unintended consequences of the ESA. As a result, Seasholes advocates for a new approach to species conservation: the Endangered Species Reserve Program (ESRP). The ESRP would compensate private landowners for their conservation efforts. By replacing the punitive ESA with a flexible, voluntary conservation system, Seasholes contends that the United States could better protect wildlife.

Source: Brian Seasholes, "Fulfilling the Promise of the Endangered Species Act: The Case for an Endangered Species Reserve Program," Reason Foundation, September 2014. 


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