Saving endangered species: 5 essential reads

Image of endangered wolf species

Camera trap footage of a female gray wolf and pups in Lassen National Forest in Northern California. The state listed the wolves as endangered in 2014, but farmers and ranchers have challenged this policy. USFS via AP

The Trump administration has announced rule changes that alter how it will enforce the 1973 Endangered Species Act, which protects threatened and endangered species and their habitats. Among these changes, officials can now consider potential costs in deciding whether to list a species. The new policies will make it easier to delist species, and are likely to shrink areas set aside as critical habitat to help species recover.

These five articles from The Conversation’s archives describe public perceptions of the Endangered Species Act and the challenges of saving species on the edge.

1. Americans support protecting endangered species

Critics of the Endangered Species Act say the law is too bureaucratic and costly to private interests, and that states should have a bigger role. But when Ohio State University’s Jeremy Bruskotter and Ramiro Berardo and Michigan Technological University’s John Vucetich reviewed 20 years of data on public views of the law, they found that over that time, roughly 80% of Americans consistently supported it.

Notably, while liberals strongly favored protecting endangered species, nearly 75% of conservatives did so as well. In a 2015 survey, more than 70% of hunters, farmers and ranchers supported the Endangered Species Act.

Why, then, are critics of the law so determined to weaken it? The authors point to research showing that “policy outcomes in America are heavily influenced by ‘economic elites’ and business interests who … have greater clout with, and access to, policymakers” than average voters.

2. States aren’t equipped to take over

Some regulators and members of Congress have pushed to delegate responsibility for listing and protecting endangered species to states. But University of California, Irvine legal scholars Alejandro Camacho and Michael Robinson-Dorn found that state statutes were much weaker than the Endangered Species Act. And states would have to massively increase spending to maintain the levels of protection that exist now.

“States have substantial authority to manage flora and fauna in their boundaries,” the authors write. “But species often cross state borders, or exist on federal lands. And many states either are uninterested in species protection or prefer to rely on the federal government to serve that role.”

The authors found room for better consultation between federal agencies and states, but argue that rather than dismantling the Endangered Species Act, Congress should provide enough funding to achieve the law’s goals. 08-13-19

Read more at The Conversation