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
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:
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."