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Save the Endangered Species Act with Common Sense

August 20, 2019 in Economics

By Randal O’Toole

Randal O’Toole

The Endangered Species Act has been called the strongest environmental law Congress has ever written because it gives the government almost unlimited power to regulate private landowners with the objective of saving wildlife, fish, and even insects. Environmental groups that relish seeing this law enforced are upset that the Trump administration is proposing to change how the law is administered.

The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution forbids the taking of private property for public use without compensation. The Endangered Species Act violates the spirit, if not the letter, of this amendment.

Under the law, if you have an endangered species on your land, or if the government thinks you might have an endangered species on your land, or if the government knows you don’t have an endangered species on your land but thinks that you might someday have that species on your land, then the government can so strictly regulate your land that you can’t get any economic use out of it. For example, the government told Louisiana landowners that they couldn’t develop their property because it was defined as “critical habitat” for a rare frog — even though the frog didn’t, and couldn’t, live on the land without completely removing existing trees and replacing them with other species.

Effectively, the government is requiring some private landowners to house and feed certain species of wildlife at the landowners’ expense. Moreover, the government can force this without providing any compensation at all. The law doesn’t require the government to consider the cost of its regulation, so government officials can write overly strict rules just in case it might help a species.

Yet there is little evidence that giving the government this power has done much to save species. The few species that have recovered from danger did so mostly for other reasons.

[pullquote]Those who truly want to save rare species should support revisions to the law that give people incentives to save species without imposing the costs on a handful of landowners.[/pullquote]

For example, America’s symbol, the bald eagle, was once considered endangered. But scientists agree that it recovered primarily because the Environmental Protection Agency banned the use of the pesticide DDT a year before the Endangered Species Act was passed.

Moreover, the Endangered Species Act may actually do more harm than good to endangered species. To avoid regulation, the law gives private landowners incentives to do everything they can to keep endangered species …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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