When the Endangered Species Act passed in 1973, few understood its ramifications. No one voted against the bill in the Senate, and only 12 representatives opposed it in the House. The bill encountered no organized opposition of any kind.
But now, 45 years later, it’s hard to find a more controversial or more powerful environmental law. Depending on who you ask, the act is either one of America’s greatest conservation successes or one of its most dismal failures. Its supporters point out that only 1 percent of the species listed have gone extinct, while critics counter that less than 2 percent of listed species have recovered and been delisted.
Currently, all three branches of federal government are looking at the Endangered Species Act. The Fish and Wildlife Service and the Department of the Interior have proposed revisions for listing endangered and threatened species and for designation of critical habitat. Congress is holding hearings on bills amending the Endangered Species Act, and the Supreme Court is preparing to rule on a case deciding if designated critical habitat for endangered species must actually be habitable.
The Endangered Species Act has proven effective at preventing extinctions but not at promoting species recovery. Because we care about preventing extinction and recovering endangered species, the challenge is to find reforms that preserve what the act does well while boosting incentives for recovering species. Some ideas from PERC on how this can be accomplished are explained below:
Road to Recovery: A report on how restoring the Endangered Species Act’s two-step process can prevent extinction and promote recovery.
PERC Reports: Getting Species Recovery Right: This issue of PERC Reports explores the challenges of species recovery—and how to provide incentives that can overcome those challenges.
Testimony and Public Comments:
House Committee on Natural Resources Legislative Hearing: PERC Research Fellow Jonathan Wood’s testimony before the House Committee on Natural Resources on a collection of bills that seek to reform the Endangered Species Act.
Public Comment on Proposals to Improve the Endangered Species Act: PERC weighs in on efforts by the Department of the Interior to “improve and modernize” the Endangered Species Act.
Changing the Endangered Species Act Could Actually Help Conservation (Washington Post): Proposed changes to the Endangered Species Act, which would alter the way the Fish and Wildlife Service lists certain species and designates critical habitat, could help accord win out over acrimony in disputes over imperiled species.
The Feds Bungle Frog Hospitality (Wall Street Journal): Government efforts to save the endangered dusky gopher frog have skewed incentives for conservation.
Consider the Dusky Gopher Frog (National Review): Because most endangered species rely in part on private lands for habitat, land use restrictions under the Endangered Species Act can be especially burdensome for private landowners, making enemies out of the very people who are most critical to endangered-species recovery.
Proposed Changes Will Help Recover Endangered Species (The Hill): Modest reforms to adjust the regulatory burdens felt by private landowners based on the degree of threats a species faces would enable the Endangered Species Act to prevent extinction and promote recovery by aligning the incentives of property owners with the interests of vulnerable species.
Endangered Frog’s Survival Depends on Making Landowners Friends Not Foes (The Hill): The Supreme Court is set to hear a case on endangered species critical habitat designations, but, no matter how the court rules, the dusky gopher frog won’t benefit one bit.
Should Dried Up Ponds Limit Property Rights? (Reason): The yearslong dispute over a frog demonstrates how the Endangered Species Act has failed wildlife and private property owners alike.