By Peyton Knight
Animals and humans have suffered the menace of
the Endangered Species Act (ESA) for three long
decades. During this span, over 1,300 species
have been listed as threatened or endangered
under the Act’s guidelines. According the U.S.
Fish and Wildlife Service, the ESA is
responsible for recovering a mere ten of them.
That amounts to a pitiful recovery rate of less
than one percent. When you take into account
credible studies that show these ten recoveries
had little or nothing to do with the ESA, the
“success” rate plummets to zero.
Saving zero of over 1,300 species is hard work
and sacrifice under the Endangered Species Act.
After all, you don’t achieve a zero percent
success rate without breaking a few eggs. When
the Northern Spotted Owl was listed under the
ESA in 1990, tens of thousands of Americans in
the Pacific Northwest lost their jobs and their
livelihoods. Billions of dollars were sapped
from the regional economy. Private property was
taken from landowners. Such is the toil and
hardship associated with saving an owl that, as
it turns out, isn’t endangered and never needed
Crucial military preparation and training
operations have fallen victim to the ESA’s
relentless pursuit of imperfection. The Pentagon
regards Camp Pendleton in Southern California as
one of the best places to train U.S. marines due
to its unique terrain and coastline. In fact,
Camp Pendleton is the only amphibious training
base on the West Coast. Alas, it is also home to
the California gnatcatcher, the San Diego fairy
shrimp, the tidewater goby, and more than a
dozen other species listed as “endangered” or
“threatened” under the Endangered Species Act.
As such, our men and women in uniform must tread
lightly, or not at all, in certain areas that
used to be their training ground—lest they find
themselves subject to penalties and fines.
Dodging bullets may prove easier than avoiding
fairy shrimp “vernal pools,” or “puddles of
water” to the layman. An inadequately trained
military is a small price to pay when you’ve got
a zero-for-1,300 streak on the line. Even during
a time of war.
The Endangered Species Act does not
discriminate. Just ask the family and friends of
the four firefighters who were killed in 2001.
Federal bureaucrats fiddled while the inferno
around them burned. These four heroes were
fighting the infamous Thirty Mile Fire in
Washington’s Okanogan National Forest when the
blaze bore down on them and encroached on their
emergency fire shelters. Their only salvation
was the nearby Chewuch River, which could supply
water to helicopters for a flame-dousing
airdrop. Oh, if it were only that easy.
According to the Endangered Species Act, the
Chewuch was home to a several endangered fish
and, therefore, ladling water from the river
might, could, possibly imperil a few of the
little buggers. While paper pushers back East
fretted over how to satisfy the ESA’s
requirements, these four brave men and women
were snuffed out by the deadly fire. The good
news is there are plenty of humans to go around.
Fish, on the other hand, well, they’re abundant
too. But who are we to question the supremacy of
the Endangered Species Act?
Congressman Richard Pombo (R-CA) has stated: “It
is no secret the ESA has been used by extremists
to restrict, seize, and devalue private property
rights, as well as halt important government
projects. In fact, this is what most ‘green’
obstructionist groups relish most about the
Whatever intentions were behind the ESA when it
was conceived in 1973 are of little consequence.
Intended results mean nothing when compared to
actual results. The ESA exists solely as a
land-use and power tool, whereby radical
environmentalists and their allies in government
can take property and force their whims on the
public. As Rep. Pombo points out, “The ESA has
become the preeminent law of the land; in its
implementation, it takes precedent over all
Included in that “all else” is common sense. The
Endangered Species Act punishes property owners
for fostering an environment that is suitable
for species habitation. You read that right. The
ESA is so backwards that it creates a perverse
incentive for landowners to actually rid their
property of species and habitat for fear of
government confiscation of their land or
“The incentives are wrong here,” notes biologist
and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Southeast
Regional Director Sam Hamilton. “If a rare metal
is on my property the value of my land goes up.
But if a rare bird is on my property the value
of my property goes down.”
Stolen property, lost jobs, shattered
livelihoods, broken dreams, billions of dollars,
and lost lives. This is a pretty steep price for
a law that has failed to save species. Can’t
America do better? Isn’t it time to repeal the
Endangered Species Act and start over?
Peyton Knight is executive director of the
American Policy Center. The Center, a grassroots
activist think tank, maintains an Internet site