NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Endangered Species Act Needs Revision

February 11, 2003

The Endangered Species Act (ESA) of 1973 established lists of endangered and threatened species and prohibited the killing or harming of them and their habitat. Measured by any reasonable standard though, the ESA has failed.

  • In the past three decades many more species have been added to the list than have been removed.
  • Even if we count all of the species removed from the list as "successes," they account for only 3.5 percent of the species recorded since 1973.
  • According to the General Accounting Office, most species are closer to extinction now than when they were originally listed.

The first step toward reforming the ESA should be to moderate the damage that the current act inflicts on private landowners. Consider the following:

  • Nearly 80 percent of listed species depend on private land for all or part of their habitat requirements.
  • Yet if landholders provide suitable habitat for an endangered species, they run the risk of their property being subject to severe government regulations, many of which constrain land from being used profitably.
  • An unintended consequence of the ESA is that it creates perverse incentives for landowners to destroy endangered species' habitat -- for example, an owner chain sawed hundreds of acres of golden-cheeked warbler habitat because the bird was about to be added to the endangered species list.

For wildlife conservation to be successful, negative restrictions on landowners must be replaced with positive incentives. For example, under Texas's Landowner Incentive Program, landholders enter into a contract to perform measurable actions (such as restoring native vegetation or performing controlled burns) with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. They can receive grants of up to $10,000 for actively managing their land for rare species

Source: Laura E. Huggins, "A Better Way to Protect Endangered Species," Weekly Essays, February 10, 2003, Hoover Institution.


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