Endangered Species Act

President Richard Nixon signed the Endangered Species Act (ESA) into law in 1973. Widely touted as one of the most important and successful environmental laws ever passed, the ESA's purpose is to conserve threatened and endangered plants and animals, and the habitats in which they are found.

Some, however, claim the ESA is ineffective, and even a failure. ESA opponents chiefly argue that private landowners are encouraged to destroy endangered species habitat in order to avoid the ESA's severe restrictions on private land use.

The major components of the ESA include a command that all federal agencies "conserve" listed species and a prohibition against "taking" a listed species by anyone, including both government and private individuals.

A major and recent controversy was the listing of the polar bear as a threatened species.  Many environmental groups sought to use the polar bears' listing as a means of regulating greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, as they link climate change to the melting of the polar bears' arctic ice habitat. However, former Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne and the Bush Administration believed that the ESA was not the proper channel for regulating GHG emissions and made a special rule for the polar bears' listing that precluded emissions regulations being formed around it.

Very recently several changes were made to the ESA by the outgoing Bush Administration that sought to make the ESA function more efficiently, by relieving certain agencies from the need to consult third party scientists on the impacts of certain projects, when those impacts are deemed unquantifiable or insignificant. While this has raised some controversy, it could save taxpayers and landowners billions of dollars in the future, and benefit wildlife by diverting funds from the drawn out and expensive permitting process to the actual management and recovery of endangered species.

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"The Center for Biological Diversity ('CBD') has recently taken the first step toward using the Endangered Species Act ('ESA') to regulate industries accused of contributing to global warming. If CBD is successful, virtually every segment of U.S. industry will become subject to the ESA's standard to insure no harm to ESA-protected species."

National Geographic reports that the Endangered Species Act can sometimes backfire and cites a number of examples of intentional habitat destruction intended to make land inhospitable to endangered species.

Adler, professor of law at Case Western University, remarks on the defects of the Endangered Species Act on the 30th anniversary of its enactment, citing a study in the December 2003 Conservation Biology that reports just as many landowners responded to the listing of Preble's meadow jumping mouse by destroying potential habitat as undertook new conservation efforts.

Increasingly, the theory of global warming is being linked to the destruction of endangered species. There is no arguing that climate change can kill off species; consider the dinosaurs. Consider, too, that the dinosaurs were killed off well before the industrial revolution.

This article explains the potential precedent (and future impacts) of citing global warming as a cause for endangering species that could be set if the Department of the Interior agrees to list the polar bear as a "threatened" species under the ESA.

"You ask a citizen on the street, 'Who runs the Endangered Species Act?' and they would say, 'Well, the Fish and Wildlife Service, I guess.' 'No.' Sansonetti said. 'It is run by a third branch of government. It's the judges that are running ESA right now.'"

This article explains how Western officials want to rewrite federal species law based on their success at saving sage grouse habitat.

The commentary piece describes the success story of the recovery of the Grey Wolf (Timberwolf) in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. These states chose to move away from the federal approach of relying heavily on threatening farmers and property owners with heavy fines and even jail time for protecting their livestock from the great predator. By finding ways to compensate local landowners for...

This U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service news release describes the special rule created for the protection of the polar bear. It precludes activities outside of its protection zone that may lead to the incidental taking of a bear from being regulated under the Endangered Species Act.

Just five years ago, Charles Monnett was one of the scientists whose observation that several polar bears had drowned in the Arctic Ocean helped galvanize the global warming movement. Now, the wildlife biologist is on administrative leave and facing accusations of scientific misconduct.

Burnett explains that recent pushes to list the polar bear as "threatened" under the Endangered Species Act are, "...based on flawed forecasting methods and incomplete data."  Sterling explains that these are merely political efforts (U.S. polar bear populations are not declining) to force the Bush administration to take a tougher stance on greenhouse gas emissions.

Chart or Graph

J. Scott Armstrong, ultimately responsible for the graph above, testified to the Senate on how the data about Polar Bears and decreasing ice was selectively presented.

Analysis Report White Paper

In this article, Jonathan Adler looks at four recent studies conducted by various researchers and organizations that provide evidence that the Endangered Species Act (ESA) may actually be doing more harm than good to the very wildlife it purports to protect.

This report offers a detailed look at the original intentions of the ESA, the litigation procedures that accompany the act, specific case studies in which the ESA has harmed land owners, the ultimate failure of the Act to protect species, and, finally, concludes with an argument in favor of a "non-punitive, non-regulatory approach" to conservation.

Endangered species protection can be made effective - and honest - only if we recognize eight truths ignored by the failing Endangered Species Act. Among them: letting nature take its course isn't the best way to protect biodiversity; and property owners must be given an interest in protecting sensitive habitat.

"Environmental groups are intensely aware of the power charismatic species have to both capture the imagination of the public and serve as levers to emplace environmental restrictions and regulations."

This study examines private landowners' responses to the listing of the Preble's meadow jumping mouse as threatened under the ESA and finds that listing the mouse "does not appear to have enhanced its survival prospects on private land."

"Unfortunately, the bald eagle will be delisted in name only because despite the species' much hailed recovery the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has cut-and-pasted the Endangered Species Act (ESA) land-use regulations-the 'teeth' that make the law so broadly powerful-to the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act (Eagle Act)."

"The picture that emerges is that the ESA's role in conserving the bald eagle has been significantly overstated, the ESA may have done more harm than good, and there are a host of factors key to gaining a fuller picture of the eagle's conservation."

In reality, the protection of species at risk has been hampered by the ESA's perverse incentive and lack of prioritization.

Video/Podcast/Media

Schleibe is interviewed about the current status of the polar bear, what steps will be taken to protect it, and the role played by ESA.

Governor Dirk Kempthorne, who later served as Secretary of the Interior during the second Bush term, discusses the triumphs and failures of the ESA, and examines prospects for its future.

Primary Document

Transcript of the Bill of Rights to the Constitution.

This is the text of the act, the link was provided via the organization River Network.

This press release from the DOI explains the changes that were put into affect under the Bush Administration in late 2008. As the release states, "These changes are designed to reduce the number of unnecessary consultations under the ESA so that more time and resources can be devoted to the protection of the most vulnerable species. Under the proposed rule, agency actions that could cause an...

How does the ESA impact ranchers and farmers? Sims, a rancher and president of the Wyoming Association of Conservation Districts, testifies about the negative impact of wolf reintroduction to Yellowstone, the loss of private property rights and land values under the ESA, the cost of defending against ESA, and the misuse of the ESA to further special interest goals to land use and development...

This decision, the first Supreme Court interpretation of the Endangered Species Act, demonstrates the power and breadth of the Act. In TVA v. Hill, the Court stopped construction of a virtually completed $100 million federal dam because it would adversely impact the habitat of the snail darter, a three inch, tannish colored fish, despite the fact that Congress continued to fund the...

"The proposition of our author, then, should be reversed, and it should have been said, that they mind so much their own, that they never think enough of others. Suppose a nation, rich and poor, high and low, ten millions in number, all assembled together; not more than one or two millions will have lands, houses, or any personal property; if we take into the account the women and children, or...

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