This special issue of PERC Reports examines the Endangered Species Act with an eye toward improving the incentives for species recovery. Read the full issue.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Endangered Species Act, one of the nation’s most well-known and far-reaching environmental laws. The act’s dual purposes—to prevent extinctions and recover species—earned it broad public support and near-unanimous approval in Congress when it was enacted in 1973.
Over the past 50 years, however, the law has had mixed results. While almost all species listed under the act have avoided extinction, few have rebounded sufficiently to be removed from the list. Meanwhile, the number of listed species has ballooned from 78 to nearly 2,400 today. With more species added, but few recoveries, the act has become a growing source of controversy due to its significant regulatory burdens and lack of recovery progress.
Part of this challenge stems from the act’s structure. Its stringent regulations may be effective at stopping certain land-use activities that could push a species beyond the brink of extinction, but it does little to reward states or landowners who recover species or restore habitat. In fact, the law often does the opposite: By imposing regulatory burdens wherever rare species or their habitats are found, it turns species into liabilities. And because most endangered species rely on private lands for habitat, this punitive approach can make enemies out of the people who are most needed to help recover species.
This special issue of PERC Reports explores the past, present, and future of the Endangered Species Act, with an eye toward getting the incentives right to recover species. Jonathan Adler explains how the act often fails to achieve its recovery goals, while Jonathan Wood draws lessons from the law’s past that demonstrate how to get recovery right in the future. Using newly compiled data, Katherine Wright provides an up-to-date examination of species recovery progress over the past 50 years.
This issue also offers specific ideas for how to improve the act’s recovery track record, drawing from a new policy report published by PERC. Building on those ideas, Brian Yablonski offers a bold vision for how to recover grizzly bears, and Tate Watkins examines how to encourage habitat restoration to recover species like the black pine snake. He concludes the issue by exploring some of the surprising ways that technological innovation can help save rare species.
As the Endangered Species Act enters its second half-century, preventing extinctions is not enough. It must also motivate the actions needed to recover species. The ideas explored in these pages would go a long way toward doing that—ensuring that America’s imperiled wildlife not only survives, but thrives.