Time to Take Action
Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
Upholding rural Americans' rights to grow food,
own property, and caretake our wildlife and natural resources.


ESA: Too Broke to Fix?

By Marion, Unfiltered 3-29-07 New West, guest column

The Endangered Species Act was written in 1973 with the idea of protecting plants and animals that seemed to be in danger of totally disappearing. It sounded good, but like many things government, it was way too broad in scope and way too loose in controls and limits. It was obviously something written by lawyers to allow other lawyers to make their own interpretation. The following are what I see as the ESA’s core problems:

Problem 1: No real guidelines for listing or delisting. To date close to 2000 species have been listed, only a handful have been delisted, including three Australian kangaroos, the eastern, western grey, and red. The Great Lakes wolves are also listed as being delisted, although I don’t believe that is actually effective until later this summer. Nineteen species have been removed due to having been listed in error due to erroneous information. I could not find the cost of listing and “reintroducing” these species, but I suspect none cost less than $1 million, and probably several million. We need to know how that could happen and the rules need to be more specific. If species are erroneously listed as a result of environmental lawsuits, then the groups forcing the lawsuits should be required to reimburse the total costs to the government, the state, and the individuals paying the cost of dealing with that species.

Rules have changed to accommodate the desire to list a species. In 1982 when the first wolf recovery plan was presented, it was pointed out that there were abundant wolves in Canada just north of the target states. They were not only not endangered, they were already recolonizing in the target states. The non-essential experimental (10j) was written to allow reintroducing species to habitat outside of their range. It also absolved the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from liability if native inhabitants were harmed or removed.

A definite delisting criteria is not a part of listing and it needs to be. Using wolves as an example, the goal population is a minimum of 400 percent, but it’s not enough for environmental groups whose lawsuits drive the whole movement. Such ethereal comments as “we don’t trust the states to protect them well” are driving hundreds of thousands of dollars in costs to the taxpayers and individual states.

The ESA must include absolute delisting criteria as a part of the listing criteria.

Problem 2: No way of tracking costs, needs transparency It is virtually impossible to determine either the individual species cost or total cost of the ESA, but the Property and Environment Research Center (PERC) is estimating up to 2.4 billion per year. What are we getting for our money? Not much, since it takes 20 years or more, evidently, to get a species to delisting and that depends on lawsuits. Gray wolves in the Great Lakes took 40 years despite many wolves for approximately 20 years.

Problem 3: No way to mitigate negative impact to other species Each listed species is considered in a vacuum. Models of potential impact are a part of the listing document, but there can be no modification of the listed population, per law, to mitigate excessive actual impact. Other species are not monitored by specific guidelines. An example is the reintroduction of the Grey Wolf to Yellowstone National Park, where only the Northern elk herd is regularly monitored. The herd has decreased by approximately 70 percent, instead of the 6 to 30 percent predicted. There are no continuing monitoring studies that I can find of moose, big horn sheep, black bears, or other Yellowstone elk herds. There is no study of diseases carried by listed species and the effects on other species in the area.

Wolves are another example of this. This fall an elk shot by a hunter was found to be infected by a tapeworm, Echinococcus granulosus, that is normally carried by wolves. How widespread is this? Will it have an overall negative impact on other wildlife? Can it spread to livestock? We don’t know, and apparently there is no mechanism for finding out or dealing with a severe outbreak.

Problem 4: Inadequate planning and follow up All plans are to include an estimate of time and cost that will be involved, though most do not include this vital information

This link is to a Government Accountability Office study that evaluates the plans and their ability to meet criteria for listing and delisting species. The following is a summary of some of the study’s findings:

“Almost all of the 107 recovery plans we reviewed have two of the three key elements identified in the act, but few include the third element. First, we found that all of the plans we reviewed include site-specific management actions, although the level of specificity varies greatly. Some plans contain many detailed actions; while others contain fewer, higher level actions. In instances where little is known about the species, the focus of site-specific management actions is often on research and data gathering. Second, almost all of the 107 plans we reviewed include time and cost estimates for implementing site-specific management actions; four plans did not contain this information, but stated that doing so was not practicable. In contrast, only five of the 107 plans we reviewed included the third element—recovery criteria that address all five delisting factors. Twenty-three plans either state why providing recovery criteria was not practicable or indicate that the species is thought to be extinct or not recoverable. An additional 57 plans include some recovery criteria but do not evidence consideration of all five delisting factors. The remaining 22 plans do not include any recovery criteria for delisting and do not state why providing such criteria was not practicable.”

Problem 5: Costs of restorations being imposed on individuals and states targeted for listing a species The initial costs are borne by all American taxpayers, but impacts to private property and its use by endangered species is borne by individuals. And worse, they could face legal problems if individuals should use their property in a manner not acceptable for the species. These individuals receive no reimbursement for the loss of their property use and must continue to bear the burden.

Once a species is “proposed for delisting” the state is responsible for the costs from then on. States with very small populations—my state of Wyoming, for instance, at a half million residents—are burdened unfairly for projects approved by a majority of non-residents who can easily out vote them.

My suggestions First, develop an ESA division of FWS, and appropriate a certain amount of money for it every year. This money would be available to maintain all species declared endangered, threatened, or non-essential, experimental. It would also be available to put more species on the list and provide the funding for restoring them, but all of the costs would be mandatory from that fund. Private property owners would be fully reimbursed for the loss of use of their property. States would not be responsible individually for the costs.

Second, include the absolute listing and delisting criteria in the plan at the beginning. No lawsuits, no arguments. When the criteria is met the species would be delisted. In order to continue it as endangered a whole new listing process would be required. The savings in lawsuit costs would probably pay for some of these species and cut the overall costs.

Third, require organizations filing lawsuits to force listing of a species to post a bond equal to the expected costs of restoring the species. This would be forfeited if the species was listed in error.

Home Contact


              Page Updated: Thursday May 07, 2009 09:15 AM  Pacific

             Copyright © klamathbasincrisis.org, 2007, All Rights Reserved