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Topics Homepage> The Endangered Species Act does more harm than good.

The Endangered Species Act does more harm than good.

PRO (3 assertions)


Judge, let’s take a minute and look at the bald eagle, California condor, Florida manatee, and other animals. Without the Endangered Species Act, these animals would no longer be in existence. Is this what we want? Do we want whole ecosystems to fall apart? Because this is what the affirmative side is advocating for.

A recent poll done by the Defenders of Wildlife shows that most Americans agree on the importance of preserving our nation’s rich and unique national heritage: 90% agree that the Endangered Species Act has helped hundreds of species recover from the brink of extinction and 87% agree that the Endangered Species Act is a successful safety net for protecting wildlife, plants, and fish from extinction.

“Nothing is more priceless and more worthy of preservation than the rich array of animal life with which our country has been blessed,” said President Nixon.

1. Assertion: The Endangered Species Act may encourage preemptive habitat destruction by landowners who fear losing the use of their land because of the use of an endangered species.

Reasoning/Evidence: In early 2006, landowners in Boiling Springs Lakes, North Carolina, began clear-cutting timber from their property after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced that development could threaten local red-cockaded woodpecker populations. The FWS released plans to identify additional habitats, prompting landowners to grab their chainsaws to clear their property of the trees , or the woodpeckers’ habitats, before their land could be designated as endangered species habitat. “People are just afraid a bird might fly in and make a nest and their property is worth nothing,” Boiling Springs Lakes mayor Joan Kinney said.

The situation was a predictable consequence of Section 9 of the Endangered Species Act, as it is illegal for a private landowner to engage in activities that could “harm” an endangered species, including habitat modification, without first obtaining a federal permit. Similar occurrences have happened with spotted owls, Texas songbirds, and Preble’s meadow jumping mouse.

A study by economists John List, Michael margolis, and Daniel Osgood provided powerful evidence that the Endangered Species Act is discouraging species conservation on private land and that the net effect of the Endangered Species Act on private land is negative. Given that habitat loss and fragmentation represent the greatest threat to endangered species, this should be of concern. Most land--approximately 2/3 of the continental United States--is privately owned. The relative importance of such lands for the maintenance of species habitat and critical ecological functions is perhaps even greater. Over three-fourths of those species currently listed as threatened or endangered rely upon private land for some or all of their habitat, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

2. Assertion: The Endangered Species Act is not effective in repopulating species.

Evidence: A joint study done by Harvard researcher Amy Sinden and Cornell researcher Raymond de Young took into account the conflicting data from both sides that argued that the Endangered Species Act had saved over 1,000 species and that the Endangered Species Act hadn’t saved any. After tracking the population numbers of the species on the Endangered Species Act’s lists, they found that those studies that claimed that the Endangered Species Act was effective had misrepresented the data.

Specifically, those studies did not account for other external factors in the species’ environment and habitat and had automatically assumed that the population growths were due to the initiation of the Endangered Species Act. The study concluded that the Endangered Species Act had saved little to no species. In the past 30 years, fewer than 30 of the over 1,000 domestic species have been taken off the endangered and threatened species lists.

3. Assertion: The Endangered Species Act is a waste of taxpayer dollars.

Evidence: As of May 17, 2010, there are a total of 1,374 species listed as threatened or endangered. According to a 2009 report by Greenwire citing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the average cost of listing a single species is $85,000 and the average cost of designating critical habitat is $515,000 per species. Between 2000 and 2009, in just 12 states and the District of Columbia, 14 environmental groups filed 180 federal court complaints to get species listed under the Endangered Species Act and were paid $11,743,287 in attorneys fees and costs.

Also, building is expensive and varies per animal. For example, the costs of designating critical habitats for the California gnatcatcher will average to $300 million per year. Not only is it a waste of taxpayer dollars, but the Endangered Species Act harms people’s incomes as well. Farmers in the Klamath Basin of Oregon lost an estimated $53.9 million of crop value in 2001.

CON (4 assertions)


1) Of the 2,000 endangered species listed, only 28 species were delisted, meaning that the success rate of the Endangered Species Act is 1% over nearly three decades.



The Endangered Species Act:

  • authorizes the determination and listing of species as endangered and threatened;

  • prohibits unauthorized taking, possession, sale, and transport of endangered species;

  • provides authority to acquire land for the conservation of listed species, using land and water conservation funds;

  • authorizes establishment of cooperative agreements and grants-in-aid to States that establish and maintain active and adequate programs for endangered and threatened wildlife and plants;

  • authorizes the assessment of civil and criminal penalties for violating the Act or regulations; and

  • authorizes the payment of rewards to anyone furnishing information leading to arrest and conviction for any violation of the Act or any regulation issued thereunder.

1. Assertion: The Endangered Species Act is effective in repopulating species.

Evidence: The longer an animal or plant species is protected under the U.S. Endangered Species Act, the more likely it is to recover, a new study says. The finding contradicts recent criticism that the act has returned too few species to full health.

Researchers Martin Taylor, Kieran Suckling, and Jeffrey Rachlinski compared population trends of 1,095 listed species with three related factors: how long the species were listed, whether their habitat had been protected, and whether specific recovery plans were in place. Overall, the study found that the Endangered Species Act is effective, said Suckling, co-author of the study and policy director of the Center for Biological Diversity in Tucson, Arizona. “We were able to identify three aspects that contribute to the act's success: recovery plans, critical habitat [protection], and the listing itself,” he said. “Each of those has an independent contribution, and therefore we need to do more of those things.”

Critics argue that recovery of only 15 animals in 32 years indicates failure. Suckling counters that the statistic is not a good measure of the act's effectiveness. “That would be like walking into an emergency room and saying, ‘Look, everyone is sick. This hospital must be a failure.’” Suckling notes that the Endangered Species Act is, by any measure, a success: 99.9 percent of species protected by the Act have been kept from extinction and, where measured, 93 percent of protected species are moving toward recovery.

2. Assertion: The Endangered Species Act keeps keystone species alive.

Reasoning: The Endangered Species Act protects species who are considered “keystone,” whose loss can transform or undermine the ecological processes or fundamentally change the species composition of the wildlife community.

Evidence: The gray wolf is one such keystone species. When wolves were restored to Yellowstone National Park through the Endangered Species Act, they started to control the park’s large population of elk, which had been over consuming the willows and other trees that grew along streams. The recovery of these trees is cooling stream flows, which benefits native trout and increases nesting habitat for migratory birds. Beavers now have willow branches to eat, and beaver dams create marshland habitat for otters, mink, and ducks. Wolves even benefit the threatened grizzly bear, since grizzlies ï¬nd it easier to take over a wolf kill than to bring down their own elk.

Another example is the dodo bird. Although the dodo bird became extinct in 1681, we are just beginning to understand the effects of its extinction on the ecosystem. Recently, a scientist noticed that a certain species of tree was becoming quite rare on Mauritius. In fact, he noticed that all 13 of the remaining trees of this species were about 300 years old. No new trees had germinated since the late 1600s. It turns out that the dodo bird ate the fruit of the tree, and it was only by passing through the dodo’s digestive system that the seeds became active and could grow.

Whitebark pine is considered a keystone species because it regulates runoff by slowing the progress of snowmelt, reduces soil erosion by initiating early succession after fires and other disturbances, and provides seeds that are a high-energy food source for some birds and mammals. This tree is also protected under the Endangered Species Act.

3. Assertion: Saving species will benefit humans.

Evidence: The extinction crisis is more than just of academic interest; our survival as a species depends on the health of the planet’s ecosystems. Humans rely on plant and animal species not only to provide us food and sustenance directly, but for a variety of other services crucial to our survival: helping to clean our water, provide oxygen and absorb carbon dioxide, enrich our soil, prevent erosion, control floods, pollinate crops, and so on. The total value of these ‘ecosystem services’ is difficult to measure, but one economist has estimated it at $33 trillion per year Endangered plants and animals may also hold the keys to breakthroughs in the treatments of deadly diseases. The Pacific yew tree’s bark yields the anti-cancer drug taxol. The Madagascar periwinkle’s sap contains substances that have proven effective in the treatment of Hodgkin’s disease and childhood leukemia.

4. Assertion: The Endangered Species Act protects species that help our economy.

Evidence: Healthy populations of plants and animals also help support our economy. Each year, Americans spend billions of dollars on hunting, fishing, birdwatching and other recreation that depend on wildlife and habitat conservation. For example, visitors who come to Yellowstone National Park to view gray wolves restored by the Endangered Species Act spend an estimated $35 million each year.

On the East Coast, nearly half a million birders travel to the Delaware Bay each spring to catch a glimpse of imperiled red knots and other shorebirds on their annual migration. These birders generate a total of $12 million to $20 million in economic impact for Delaware Bay communities. Nationwide, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates the total value of wildlife-dependent recreation at $122 billion annually.