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Ten Years After Loma Prieta, Campus Makes Progress Toward Seismic Stability

Tips on Earthquake Preparedness

Cutting Through Health Care's Red Tape

Endangered Species Act Failing to Protect the Nation's Wildlife

Campus Infant Care Center Opens Its Doors

Harvard Law Professor and Author Lani Guinier Delivers Savio Memorial Lecture

Members of "Calling All Cooks" Share Love of Epicurean Endeavors at Monthly Meetings

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Endangered Species Act Failing to Protect the Nation's Wildlife
More Species Will Disappear if Reforms Are Not Made Soon, Says Visiting Scholar

By D. Lyn Hunter, Public Affairs
Posted October 20, 1999

Ben Cone, a land owner in North Carolina, tended his forests carefully with frequent controlled burns and managed small timber sales. His stewardship attracted abundant wildlife, including the red-cockaded woodpecker, an endangered species.

In 1991, the Fish & Wildlife Service halted Cone's management of 1,560 acres of his land, where 29 of the woodpeckers resided, drastically reducing the property's value and his income.

Cone now clearcuts around the woodpeckers habitat, preventing them from invading more of his property. Neighboring landowners have rushed to do the same.


Because the Endangered Species Act is seriously flawed, says Randal O'Toole, a visiting scholar in the Environmental Science, Policy and Management Department.

"Cone was given no incentive to protect the bird," said O'Toole. "When landowners face stiff penalties for harboring endangered species, they minimize suitable habitat."

While the Endangered Species Act is one of the most altruistic laws ever passed, says O'Toole, it is not working. "The law creates incentives to destroy wildlife."

According to O'Toole, the act does not work for several reasons. Among them:

  • It is based on a command instead of incentive approach, ordering people to save endangered species at their own expense and despite whatever counter incentives they may face.
  • It has stopped few of the numerous federal subsidies, such as dam building and land developing, that pose the real danger to most listed species.
  • It is inadequately funded, making it difficult to write recovery plans, identify critical habitat and review the nearly 4,000 species that may be declining.
  • It gives public land managers no incentives to cooperate with species recovery. It is more profitable for an agency such as the Forest Service to harvest timber than to protect endangered species.
The act can be fixed, says O'Toole, by taking a harsher approach to federal subsidies and a gentler, more incentive-based approach to public and private lands.

O'Toole and his colleagues at the Thoreau Institute, a non-profit, natural resource protection group based in Oregon, offer several proposals, including the creation of a biodiversity trust fund that can offer landowners and managers monetary incentives for habitat protection.

Additional proposals include the creation of a budget squad that would have the authority to impound funds from subsidized federal programs that harm listed species; reforming public land agencies; and experimenting with property rights.

The most controversial, however, is eliminating the regulation of private land, a proposition that scares many environmentalists.

"We can save more species without regulation," says O'Toole. "Restricting private property for public purposes without compensation violates an American freedom."

Repealing the regulatory provisions will force wildlife advocates to find creative new solutions to diminishing species problems, says O'Toole. But the creative ideas they develop will be more successful, he says, than simply commanding uncaring landowners to protect habitat.

"The willing cooperation of landowners can be better assured by offering them carrots instead of holding guns to their heads," says O'Toole. "Making a few landowners pay the cost of protecting most of the listed species is unfair."


October 20 - 26, 1999 (Volume 28, Number 11)
Copyright 1999, The Regents of the University of California.
Produced and maintained by the Office of Public Affairs at UC Berkeley.
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