Saturday, December 28, 2013

American Endangered Species Act turns 40 with limited results and substantial costs

From the WSJ:

Forty years ago, on Dec. 28, 1973, the Endangered Species Act became law. If you want to celebrate, you'll need to close your eyes to hard truths.

A law intended to conserve species and habitat has brought about the recovery of only a fraction—less than 2%—of the approximately 2,100 species listed as endangered or threatened since 1973. Meanwhile, the law has endangered the economic health of many communities—while creating a cottage industry of litigation that does more to enrich environmental activist groups than benefit the environment.

How did things get so turned around? Blame the bureaucrats of the Endangered Species Act. They have administered the law poorly and flouted provisions designed to promote good science and good sense.

A destructive milestone came in the late 1970s, when officials erased the practical distinction between different levels of endangered-species listings. Originally, it was only when an animal or plant was labeled "endangered"—on the verge of disappearing—that landowners were hit with heavy regulations, such as prohibitions on activities that could even indirectly "harm" or "harass" the species. But the Carter administration extended these restrictions to species that are "threatened"—in trouble but not facing extinction.

The chilling effect on property owners and economic activity has been profound. Discovering a listed species on your property is no longer cause for pride in the land's environmental richness and your chance to exercise responsible stewardship. It's a liability that is to be avoided at all costs.

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