Is the Endangered Species Act bad for endangered species? John List thinks it might be.

My colleague and co-author John List is one of the most prolific and influential economists around.

He’s got a new working paper with Michael Margolis and Daniel Osgood that makes the surprising claim that the Endangered Species Act — which is designed to help endangered species — may actually harm them.

Why? The key intuition is that after a species is designated as endangered, a decision has to be made about the geographic areas that will be considered critical habitats for that species. An initial set of boundaries is made, after which there are public hearings, and eventually a final decision on what land will be protected. In the meantime, while this debate is ongoing, there are strong incentives for private parties to try to develop land that they may in the future be prevented from developing by the endangered species status. So destruction of habitat is likely to actually increase in the short run.

Based on their theory, they analyze the data for the Cactus Ferruginous Pygmy Owl near Tucson, AZ. Indeed, they find that land development speeds up substantially in the areas that are going to be designated a critical habitats.

This result, combined with Sam Peltzman’s observation that only 39 of the 1,300 species put on the endangered species list have ever been removed, do not paint a very optimistic picture of the efficacy of the Endangered Species Act.

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  1. Jason4 says:

    interesting theory, but logical enough that this should have been considered when writing the act

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  2. Jason4 says:

    interesting theory, but logical enough that this should have been considered when writing the act

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  3. egretman says:

    It’s simple. Amend the ESA so that no developement can be grandfathered during the time from a species proposal to be listed and the listing.

    But the ESA can never be amended. Enviros are too worried that it will gutted insteaded. And it’s a really strong law as it stands.

    As far as the fact that not many species have been delisted, well that just shows how long it takes to recover species. We humans think that 30 years of the ESA is a long time. It’s not!

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  4. egretman says:

    It’s simple. Amend the ESA so that no developement can be grandfathered during the time from a species proposal to be listed and the listing.

    But the ESA can never be amended. Enviros are too worried that it will gutted insteaded. And it’s a really strong law as it stands.

    As far as the fact that not many species have been delisted, well that just shows how long it takes to recover species. We humans think that 30 years of the ESA is a long time. It’s not!

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  5. leebeck says:

    A few weeks back, Nature had a summary of a paper with similarly weird conclusions about endangered species lists. It explores what it calls the “Anthropogenic Allee Effect”

    Here’s the abstract from Courchamp, F. et al. PLoS Biol. 4, e415 (2006):

    “Standard economic theory predicts that exploitation alone is unlikely to result in species extinction because of the escalating costs of finding the last individuals of a declining species. We argue that the human predisposition to place exaggerated value on rarity fuels disproportionate exploitation of rare species, rendering them even rarer and thus more desirable, ultimately leading them into an extinction vortex.”

    http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v444/n7119/full/444555a.html

    http://biology.plosjournals.org/perlserv/?request=get-document&doi=10.1371%2Fjournal.pbio.0040415

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  6. leebeck says:

    A few weeks back, Nature had a summary of a paper with similarly weird conclusions about endangered species lists. It explores what it calls the “Anthropogenic Allee Effect”

    Here’s the abstract from Courchamp, F. et al. PLoS Biol. 4, e415 (2006):

    “Standard economic theory predicts that exploitation alone is unlikely to result in species extinction because of the escalating costs of finding the last individuals of a declining species. We argue that the human predisposition to place exaggerated value on rarity fuels disproportionate exploitation of rare species, rendering them even rarer and thus more desirable, ultimately leading them into an extinction vortex.”

    http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v444/n7119/full/444555a.html

    http://biology.plosjournals.org/perlserv/?request=get-document&doi=10.1371%2Fjournal.pbio.0040415

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  7. Razela says:

    Another problem with ESA is that it tends to protect “cuter” species over other ones. In other words, animals like wildcats and birds tend to be protected over things like insects.

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  8. Razela says:

    Another problem with ESA is that it tends to protect “cuter” species over other ones. In other words, animals like wildcats and birds tend to be protected over things like insects.

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