Evidence Shows That Endangered Species are Not Adequately Served by the Nation’s Endangered Species Act
Case Western Reserve Law Professor Jonathan Adler testifies before congressional subcommittee
CLEVELAND – Saving endangered species should be more important than saving the act that was originally designed to protect them, Case Western Reserve University Law Professor Jonathan H. Adler argued Thursday in Washington, D.C., at the Oversight Subcommittee hearing of the U.S. House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology.
In testimony, Adler made a strong case that Congress should consider critically looking at the overall record of the Endangered Species Act (ESA), which was enacted 1973. Since that time, approximately 2,000 species of plants and animals, foreign and domestic, have been listed as “endangered” or “threatened.” The goal of the ESA is to recover listed species so that they no longer need the Act’s extraordinary protections.
Yet in nearly 40 years, this goal has been reached with scarcely over 1 percent of listed species. As of this month, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service reports that only 48 species have been removed from the list of endangered and threatened species. Of these, only 22 are deemed to have recovered.
Of the remaining 26 species, 17 were delisted due to data errors of one sort another, such as a mistaken taxonomic classification or undercounting of a species’ population, and nine were delisted because they are believed to have gone extinct. In other words, fewer listed species have been recovered than have been delisted, because they went extinct or never should have been listed in the first place.
Species conservation is an important goal. Serious efforts are necessary to stem the loss of biological diversity and to reconcile the nation’s environmental aspirations with other social goals.
“Whether or not this committee accepts my policy recommendations, I hope all members recognize that substantial reform is necessary, both to insulate scientific research from political pressures, as well as to advance the cause of species conservation more generally,” Adler said in remarks prepared for the committee’s hearing record. “Saving endangered species should be more important than saving the Endangered Species Act.”
Adler was invited to testify as a foremost national expert on the ESA, its accomplishments and failings. He recently examined the ESA and its associated issues in his article The Leaky Ark published Oct. 5 in The American/The Journal of The American Enterprise Institute. A link to that recent article is www.american.com/archive/2011/october/the-leaky-ark.
He has edited and was among the writers of a recently published book, Rebuilding the Ark: New Perspectives on Endangered Species Act Reform (AEI Press, 2011).
The ESA is among the most important and powerful environmental laws of the United States, Adler said. And the act has likely helped prevent some species from going extinct, but he said there is very little evidence the ESA helps species come back from the brink of extinction, and there is increasing evidence that the ESA itself creates incentives that undermine sound environmental stewardship and politicize scientific inquiry.
The listing of individual species, the designation of critical habitat and the implementation of conservation measures often prompt fierce legal and political battles, he said. Sound science is often a casualty.
“Activists on all sides claim that ‘sound science’ supports their respective positions, and scoff at the ‘junk science’ relied upon by the other side. In actual fact, what often divides the respective camps is not a devotion to science, but sharply divergent policy preferences dressed up in scientific garb,” Adler said. “The political debate over the use of science under the ESA tends to obscure the dividing line between science and policy and undermines the development of more effective and equitable conservation strategies.”
At Case Western Reserve University School of Law, Adler holds the Johan Verheij Memorial Professorship and is director of the Center for Business Law and Regulation.