The Endangered Species Act’s Road to Recovery

The Department of the Interior announces reforms, supported by PERC research, to improve wildlife recovery under the Endangered Species Act.

News for Immediate Release
August 12, 2019
Contact: Hannah Downey, 406-587-9591, hannah@perc.org

The Endangered Species Act is good at preventing extinction but has proven less successful in recovering endangered species. The Department of the Interior today announced reforms, in part supported by PERC research, that will improve how the Endangered Species Act is administered to better promote species recovery. 

“These essential tweaks to the Endangered Species Act promise to make the law more effective and results-driven in the 21st century. It represents a win for all of us devoted to recovering species and a win for states and landowners who now have an opportunity to be more innovative and creative in their role as habitat protectors,” said PERC executive director Brian Yablonski. 

In tracking the history of the Endangered Species Act, only 1 percent of the species listed have gone extinct, while less than 2 percent of listed species have recovered and been delisted. Imperiled wildlife needs both extinction protection and species recovery. Since most of these species rely on private lands for the vast majority of their habitat, cooperation with landowners is crucial for recovery. Yet the presence of listed species or their habitat often brings increased regulation, making landowners less likely to welcome at-risk species on their property.

For decades, the Endangered Species Act has essentially treated all listed species the same, whether classified as endangered or threatened. These reforms would restore the act’s original two-tiered approach, which maintains the strongest protections for endangered species while increasing flexibility and providing a degree of regulatory relief when it comes to threatened species. This updated approach will better align the incentives of property owners with the interests of at-risk species. 

Lifting automatic and often unnecessarily burdensome regulations for threatened species will encourage states and landowners to recover them before they reach endangered status. It will also provide additional motivation to help recover endangered species and improve them to threatened status. These reforms affirm the statute’s effectiveness at preventing extinctions while improving the incentives to recover wildlife.

“Our interest is getting this landmark wildlife protection law to work better,” said Yablonski. “That means fostering conditions so landowners become more enthusiastic in their role as stewards for species recovery, not worried if they find an endangered species on their land. States and landowners will respond better to carrots, not clubs, in our efforts to improve species recovery results.” 

“The mark of any good environmental law is the positive, measurable outcomes it yields on the ground,” Yablonski said. “With these improvements to the Endangered Species Act, the road to recovery for many imperiled species starts today.”

Learn more about PERC’s input on how these reforms to the Endangered Species Act will improve species recovery while still preventing extinction.

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