Why we need a new way to protect wildlife
The Endangered Species Act works best when combined with economic incentives
The Endangered Species Act (ESA) was created in 1973 to save America’s most vulnerable wildlife. However, the way it works today isn’t enough to protect our wildlife going forward.
What’s at stake? More than 250 species await listing decisions under the ESA. This number will only increase with the pressures of climate change and human development.
Why it’s not working: By the time a species is listed, it’s already reached crisis stage. The necessary fixes are often costly and burdensome. The result: Drawn-out legal battles that delay recovery.
Looming conflict over monarch butterfly
The monarch butterfly exemplifies this dilemma. In recent years, the population has dropped to about 50 million from more than one billion butterflies less than 20 years ago. Habitat loss, pesticides and climate change are largely to blame.
Ideally, as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decides what level of protection is necessary, they look to the story of the greater sage-grouse for inspiration. In September 2015, regulators decided an endangered listing was not warranted.
Greater-sage grouse decision signals new way
The reason? FWS cited major investments made in private working lands and strong commitments by ranchers to steward their lands for the sage-grouse. EDF worked with many unlikely allies, including ranchers and oil companies, to make this happen.
“The not-warranted decision sends a message that early action and collaborative efforts bring results,” says Holst. “And it made all of us see that it’s possible to avoid the conflicts that have characterized the endangered species debates for so long.”
A better way: Create incentives to conserve
Our decades of experience show that positive results happen when landowners are given incentives to conserve. Examples include:
A flexible, private-public solution creates a lasting agreement to ensure habitat for endangered wildlife.
To protect the golden-cheeked warbler, a Texas Army base swaps credits with local landowners to offset habitat loss.
By making proactive conservation improvements on their land, New England landowners restore habitat for a unique rabbit—keeping it off the endangered list.
Wildlife protection, version 2.0
These successes led us to pioneer a new, market-minded approach. Known as habitat exchanges, they are a cost-effective way to strike the right balance between wildlife protection and economic growth.