The Endangered Species Act does more harm than good

Author: sarahwornow7 | Last modified: Jan. 23, 2018, 6:55 a.m.


PRO (3 arguments)

Definitions:

Endangered Species Act- the law in its current form, without hypothetical reforms or improvements.

1. Claim: The Endangered Species Act is not effective in repopulating species, which is it’s primary purpose.
Warrant:

According to the US Congress, in the past 30 years, fewer than 50 of the over 1,600 domestic species have been taken off the endangered and threatened species lists. That’s a ridiculously low 3% success rate. And according to Berkeley Law professor Eric Biber, 26 of those 50 were delisted either because the original listing was in error or because the species went extinct!  Other studies that show a higher success rate have been disproven by a very reputable comprehensive study done in 2011. A joint study by Harvard researcher Amy Sinden and Cornell researcher Raymond de Young took into account the conflicting data from both sides about the Endangered Species Act. 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. Additionally, the researchers found that “the Endangered Species Act produces hopelessly indeterminate results, clouds transparency and undermines public participation by giving controversial and uncertain predictions a false patina of scientific accuracy and objectivity, and it delivers all this regulatory imperfection for a price that is outrageously high, draining needed resources from the real business of saving species.”

Impact:

The impact of this evidence is that it proves that the Endangered Species Act is ineffective and inefficient at achieving its primary purpose - to repopulate threatened and endangered species.  Everyone wants to save endangered wildlife, but judge, clearly the Endangered Species Act is not the best way to do it.  By continuing with this law that has proven so ineffective (a 3% success rate), we neglect to find other more successful ways to combat extinction.

Sources:

Harvard Environmental Law Review; Berkeley Law Review, Climate Change and Backlash by Eric Biber, 2008;  The Wall Street Journal

2. Claim: The Endangered Species Act is inefficient and a waste of taxpayer dollars.
Warrant:

According to a 2009 report by Greenwire citing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the average cost of listing a single species on the Endangered List  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 over $11 million in attorneys fees and costs. Also, building habitat is expensive and varies per animal. For example, the costs of designating critical habitats for the California gnatcatcher, a small bird, will average $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 $54 million of crop value in 2001, due to setting aside land as protected habitat for endangered species under the Endangered Species Act. In fact, the current version of the Endangered Species Act has been in the crosshairs of Congress for a long time. The previous Congress alone introduced over 250 amendments, bills, and riders aimed at changing the law, according to Cassandra Carmichael, the executive director of the National Religious Partnership for the Environment.

Impact:

Clearly, the Endangered Species Act is inefficient and wasteful.  Saving endangered species can be done more cheaply and effectively and that’s why Congress is trying to change the law.  The law as it stands now clearly does more harm than good.

Sources:

Property and Environment Research Center

3. Claim: 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.
Warrant:

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-cockheaded woodpecker populations. The government released plans to identify additional habitats, prompting landowners to grab their chainsaws to clear their property of the trees, which are 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 economist John List 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 represents 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.  According to an article in the economic journal, Freakanomics, the Endangered Species Act is ironically actually CAUSING harm to endangered species, by incentivising land owners to clear their land before an endangered species can call it home.  This leads to pre-emptory deforestation and land clearing, that actually speeds up the rate of wildlife extinction!

Impact:

The impact of this is clearly the opposite of what the Endangered Species Act was supposed to do.  Instead of preserving endangered wildlife, the Act is actually proactively causing more harm than good by increasing the rate of habitat destruction.

Sources:

CATO Institute; Journal of Freakanomics, an economics publication



CON (4 arguments)

Definitions:

Endangered Species Act- must be for both plants and animals, as defined in the Act

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

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 and Kieran Suckling 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. Success here should be measured by saves, and by that yardstick, the Endangered Species Act has been a clear success – only 30 species have disappeared after being placed on the list. 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.

Impact:

When the proper metrics are used to measure its impact, it’s clear the Endangered Species Act successfully protects species from extinction - respected research institutes and the American public all agree that the Act does more good than harm.

Sources:

National Geographic; LA Times article April 2017; Defenders of Wildlife institute

2. Claim: The Endangered Species Act keeps “keystone” species alive.
Warrant:

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. 

The gray wolf is one such keystone species. Let me explain why saving a keystone species is so important. 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 find it easier to take over a wolf kill than to bring down their own elk. Another example of a keystone species 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. Another keystone species protected under the Endangered Species Act is the Whitebark pine.  This tree is a keystone species because it regulates runoff by slowing the progress of snowmelt, reduces soil erosion by initiating early regrowth after fires and other disturbances, and provides seeds that are a high-energy food source for some birds and mammals. This tree is being reforested under the Endangered Species Act, to the benefit of the whole forest.

Impact:

Clearly, you cannot just count species saved and say whether the Endangered Species Act is a success or not.  Saving keystone species which are protected under the Act, has long reaching benefits for many other threatened plants and animals in the ecosystem.  It is not as simple as saying the Act saved a handful of species - each of those species could be the keystone to preserving an entire ecosystem.

Sources:

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

3. Claim: Saving species will benefit humans.
Warrant:

According to the NY Times, there are many reasons to save our fellow species, but the public is largely unaware that plants and animals are saving human lives every single day.

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. According to Jon Roush President of the Washington Wilderness Society, “almost all of us benefit from medicinal qualities of plants and animals; nine of the ten most frequently prescribed drugs are derived from natural sources. Pharmaceutical companies are scrambling to find cures to other maladies, scouring rain forests and other hotbeds of biological diversity, including areas in the United States. Drugs derived from nature generate $20 billion a year in revenue. We need a strong Endangered Species Act to protect our native species and their habitat. The act that protects them protects us.” Endangered plants and animals may also hold the keys to breakthroughs in the treatments of deadly diseases. For example, 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. Indeed, when the Act was first passed in 1973, then President Nixon said “Nothing is more priceless and more worthy of preservation than the rich array of plant and animal life with which our country has been blessed.” The Endangered Species Act has saved almost 100% of those species listed as endangered, and thus, has succeeded in its main purpose.

Sources:

NY Times; US Fish and Wildlife Service; The Defenders of Wildlife

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

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. According to the LA Times editorial board, the criticism of the Endangered Species Act as economically unviable is untrue.  The goal of Republican critics of the Endangered Species Act, isn’t to nurture species to recovered status, but to make it easier to develop wilderness areas and encroach on crucial habitats. Wyoming Senator Barrasso is among the western Republicans who want to turn federal land over to state control under the spurious argument that states know best how to care for it. They’re really trying to open public land for private exploitation, the environmental costs be damned.” Additionally, a recent poll shows that 66% of respondents reject the false choice between jobs or economy and protection of species and agree that the law is necessary to prevent species from going extinct. This plurality believes we can protect our natural heritage for future generations while growing our economy and creating jobs. Less than one-fourth (24%) agree with critics who contend that the law hurts our economy and destroys jobs, according to Tulchin Research and the Earthjustice environmental group.

Sources:

LA Times; The Defenders of Wildlife; Tulchin Research Labs; Earthjustice