Talking Points on the Environment #14
Checklist for Endangered Species Act Reform
Congress will soon take up the issue of Endangered Species Act reform.
Before Congress can devise a species protection plan that will work for all
species -- both humans and wildlife -- it must first:
- Realize that the American people want genuine species protection and that
an incentive-based plan must be devised. While most Americans would object to
the excesses of the current Endangered Species Act -- excessive protections
afforded the Flat-Spired Snail, for example -- most favor some form of
protection for the most valued species. The best way to protect these species
while protecting individual liberty is through a voluntary, incentive-based
- Recognize that the current Endangered Species Act has failed. Some 900
plants and animals are currently listed as either "endangered" or "threatened"
under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and nearly 4,000 other species are
either candidates for future listing or are in the process of being listed.
Since the ESA's inception 21 years ago, only 27 species have managed to get off
the "endangered" list. Of these, seven were delisted due to
extinction. The remaining delistings were due to "data error"
(meaning the species was wrongly listed in the first place), court orders, or
species improvement unrelated to the ESA. The ESA has failed at its central
mission -- protecting and recovering endangered and threatened species.
- Understand why the Endangered Species Act has failed. The ESA has failed
because it creates perverse incentives that actually encourage the destruction
of species habitat. Under the ESA, private landowners can be barred from
engaging in activities such as farming if their property is identified as
potential habitat for an endangered species. Since the government offers no
compensation for either the revenue or property value losses that result,
landowners have an incentive to make sure their land will not attract species.
They also have an incentive to harvest whatever natural resources their land
possesses quickly while they still have access to them, damaging habitat in the
- Accept that a goal of reform is to eliminate injustice, not simply to
limit that injustice to a relative few. The ESA is fundamentally flawed and
should be replaced. Piecemeal reforms -- those that simply tinker with
existing law -- will do little to protect endangered species and little to help
those who have been forced to foot the bill for what is essentially a public
good. A species protection plan that protects both species and individuals'
constitutionally-guaranteed private property rights is possible. But
protection of property rights must be absolute: Reforms that solve some of the
ESA's problems while continuing to place an unjust burden on small numbers of
politically-powerless Americans is unethical and doomed to failure.
Recommendations developed based on information from David Ridenour of The
National Center for Public Policy Research; Myron Ebell, formerly of the
American Land Rights Association; John Shanahan of The Heritage Foundation; "Perverse
Incentives and Endangered Species," by Brian Seasholes of the Competitive
Enterprise Institute, The Washington Times, April 6, 1995; and NWI Resource ,
Issue Date: April 12, 1995
Talking Points on the Economy: Environment #14, published by The National
Center for Public Policy Research, 501 Capitol Ct NE, Washington, D.C. 20001 Tel. (202) 507-6398, Fax (301) 498-1301, firstname.lastname@example.org,
http://www.nationalcenter/inter.net. For more information about Talking Points
on the Economy: Environment #14 contact Bob Adams at (202) 507-6398 or
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