Out of Control Policy Blog

Time to Revamp Endangered Species Act

Calling the Endangered Species Act "broken," PERC's Randy Simmons recently issued a call to dramatically revamp the way we protect endangered species. Simmons' plan revolves around the idea of "environmental federalism" :

    "Under environmental federalism, the national government is responsible for national problems. Global extinctions are what really matters for a species. It makes little sense to spend scarce money to protect a marginal distinct subpopulation of a species already thriving elsewhere, if it means you cannot protect another actual species from extinction.

    Thus, the act should be amended to be an endangered species, not subspecies, or distinct subpopulation segment act. Then, states can decide whether or how to protect subspecies. They can create interstate compacts for subspecies whose range crosses state lines.

    Some will object to environmental federalism, claiming states will engage in a race to the bottom in an attempt to promote development. In fact, the opposite tends to be true.

    State forests are better managed, both environmentally and economically, than federal forests. Some states have stricter laws than those imposed by the federal government. States have time and place-specific information that allows them to react more quickly and more creatively than federal agencies."

Simmons also makes the excellent point that the ESA provides precisely the wrong incentives to property owners. Rather than rewarding landowners for habitat conservation, the ESA has created more of an incentive for them to destroy potential habitat to avoid the types of severe restrictions on property use that would follow if a protected species were to eventually make a home there:

    "Under the current law, landowners are punished for cultivating, encouraging or allowing habitat that attracts or protects an endangered species. The ESA prohibits harm to an endangered species and the Fish and Wildlife Service interprets harm to include modifying habitat.

    . . . .

    Rational, normally law-abiding citizens, therefore, often engage in preemptive habitat destruction. If they expect an endangered species may come to their land, they destroy the habitat."

Read the whole thing. And be sure to check out this piece by Reason's Michael De Alessi, which explores ESA further and answers the question, "What has the ESA really accomplished in the past three decades?"

Leonard Gilroy is Director of Government Reform


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