Who Pays for the Delhi Sands Fly?-The Endangered Species Act Keeps on Not Saving Endangered Species

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Environmental activists are howling worse than a heartsick wolf on a moonless winter night over proposed revisions to the Endangered Species Act (ESA). House Resources Committee Chairman Richard Pombo (R-Calif.) is circulating a draft revision to the ESA that, according to Defenders of Wildlife Executive Vice President Jamie Rappaport Clark, “takes a wrecking ball to the whole Endangered Species Act.”

But taking into account that its goal is to conserve and recover endangered species, the Act already seems pretty well wrecked. Since 1973 some 1,264 species have been put on the Endangered Species list and there are 286 candidate species waiting to be listed. The idea behind listing species is that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service would devise plans aimed at recovering listed species so their wild populations would grow to the point where they could maintain themselves.


How successful have the Feds been at recovering species? Not very.

Since 1973, only 40 species have been removed from the endangered and threatened species list and only 15 of those have been de-listed because their populations had recovered. The other de-listed species either went extinct (nine species) or shouldn’t have been listed in the first place (16 species). Only about one percent of listed species have been declared no longer in endangered or threatened by extinction. Despite this sorry performance, the activist group Endangered Species Coalition hails the ESA as “one of our nation’s strongest environmental laws.”

One aspect of the draft revisions of the ESA that raises the ire of activists is the proposal to permit compensation when a property owner shows that a government action aimed at protecting an endangered species has diminished a property’s value by at least 50 percent. The Center for Biological Diversity tendentiously declares that this draft provision would “bankrupt the federal agencies by diverting conservation funds to pay landowners and corporations to obey the law.”

At a recent seminar at Seattle University, Holly Fretwell, a senior fellow at the Property Environment Research Center in Bozeman, Montana, offered some case studies showing why compensation to landowners is not only fair but also in the interests of saving endangered species. Fretwell cited the case of Ben Cone, a tree farmer in North Carolina. Cone owns 7,200 acres on which he raises southern pines in an 80 to 100 year rotation