The Endangered Species Act is an item of federal legislation that became law in 1973. It uses the biological population data of specific plants and animals to determine if they are threatened or endangered. Once a species is listed under this law, it receives a variety of protections through the use of restrictions against its capture, collection, or habitat destruction.
One of the reasons to celebrate the Endangered Species Act is that it has helped to bring several species back from the edge of extinction. That includes the bald eagle, which has become one of the iconic images of the United States.
It is also legislation that faces consistent criticism from biologists, ranchers, and private landowners because there are several shortcomings to it. This law has a narrow focus that sometimes falls short on how it can save an ecosystem. Instead of preserving the animal, critics contend that we should be using better land management strategies.
There are several additional advantages and disadvantages of the Endangered Species Act to consider.
List of the Advantages of the Endangered Species Act
1. It works to help protect the environment.
The Endangered Species Act calls attention to specific environmental issues that may be causing harm to a listed animal’s habitat. This process allows us to call attention to the issues that are destroying that area for some reason. It provides a mechanism where animals receive protection against the threat of extinction while we can work toward better land management techniques when a species is present in the area.
The California least tern is one of the success stories of this benefit. Its decline began in the 19th century because of the popularity of its feathers for fashion. Then its habitat came under pressure because of recreational and developmental pressures. There were only 225 nesting pairs listed in California as of 1980, but that number has risen to 6,568 as of 2010.
2. The law provides numerous educational opportunities.
One of the most significant influences this law has had on society is the increase in the established levels of awareness for the various threatened plant and animal species. Once we lose diversity in these areas, it is impossible to reverse extinction. Education is our best weapon to stop this from happening.
This law forces people to be aware of the environment and help naturally protect it. It has gone through several changes over the years so that it can effectively protect our ecosystem. This adaptation ensures that threatened or endangered species can recover their numbers even if they are at the brink of extinction.
3. We can re-establish a sense of order to our environmental management techniques.
Some individuals have no difficulty hunting and killing an endangered species. Whether it is for food or solely for amusement, this legislation gives the government powers to stop these actions from taking place. Some people may not use the environment at all and decide to stay at home without giving the prospects of a listed species a second thought. The advantage of this law is that it provides everyone with a fair opportunity to enjoy the environment while still offering a sense of order that keeps threatened or endangered plants and animals protected.
The black-footed ferret was thought to be extinct after the last one in captivity died in 1980. Then a year later, a small relic population was found living in a prairie dog colony in Wyoming. Over 1,200 animals from that community were released into several states during the 1990s, creating two zones that no longer need artificial supports to survive.
4. It provides more support for endangered species than most state laws.
Section 6 of the Endangered Species Act requires the relevant secretary to work with states in the conservation of protective species. There must be cooperative agreements that offer technical and financial assistance in the support of local programs. The expectations at the federal level are more inclusive than what states offer, even though many are seeking to play a larger role in how the purposes of this legislation are addressed.
Part of the reason for this advantage involves the money that the federal government spends on the Endangered Species Act compared to state efforts. When the Fish and Wildlife Service works with other federal agencies, up to $1.2 billion is spent annually to enforce this legislation.
5. There are several economic benefits that occur through the protection of wildlife.
The Endangered Species Act creates jobs for communities that are dependent upon wildlife. This legislation also has the power to protect plants and animals that might one day provide economic benefits. There are several revenue-earning opportunities that already exist because of the implementation of this law.
- Over $35 million in revenues come through Yellowstone National Park each year because of the return of the wolves there.
- The benefits of maintaining healthy ecosystems in Florida exceeds $3 billion per year in preventing erosion, establishing nurseries, and managing waste.
- Hunting, fishing, and wildlife watching generates over $120 billion in revenues and creates 400,000 jobs.
6. The Endangered Species Act protects plants and animals who might provide cures.
There are several species currently being studied because of their potential medical benefits that the Endangered Species Act helps to protect. Desert pupfish might offer future treatments for kidney disease, while black bears could offer osteoporosis help. Crocodile blood could one day become the next series of antibiotics. Even the Gila monster offers help with diabetes. The Pacific yew tree produces a toxin that offers anti-tumor properties that eventually led to the development of the drug Taxol. Having this legislation in place ensures that we can maximize the potential benefits that nature offers.
7. There are volunteer provisions that encourage protections.
The Endangered Species Act identifies eight different activities that are eligible for exemption. One of the most important of them allows private landowners who voluntarily agree to protect a species to be exempt from future legal requirements when the species is listed. In the western communities of Idaho, that includes the sage grouse, which is vital to the hunting and fishing economy of the state. Over $7 billion in total economic benefits occur each year because of these efforts.
Whooping cranes benefitted from this effort, with their population reaching a total of 54 in the 1980s. Critical habitat designations occurred in several states, but now it nests in the wild in just three locations. As of 2011, there were 599 birds counted for this species.
8. It does not stall projects unnecessarily because of endangered plants or animals.
The Endangered Species Act is one of the most flexible environmental laws with its implementation even with its robust nature. Although there are no guarantees written into the language of the legislation, there are legal standards established with it based on previous activities.
From 1998 to 2004, there were almost 430,000 development projects that went through the Section 7 consultation process. Less than 1% of them were temporarily put on hold because of the potential presence of endangered species. Only one project in total could not proceed. The remainder were allowed to continue with some type of modification.
9. The Endangered Species Act has designated millions of acres of habitat space.
Habitat areas are critical to the survival of the endangered and threatened species that receive protection under the Endangered Species Act. There have been several million acres of critical space protected under the Endangered Species Act since 1973. Over 233 million acres were set aside between 2008-2013 alone. That’s an area that’s larger than the entire national forest system and twice as large as the entire state of California.
It is through this benefit that the Endangered Species Act has managed to prevent the extinction of 99% of the plants and animals under its protection. Although a full recovery effort is rare, there is a 90% recovery rate in more than 100 species on the list.
10. There is strong public support for the Endangered Species Act.
Polls that ask Americans if they support the Endangered Species Act almost always come back with a clear recovery. A national poll commissioned by the Center for Biological Diversity in 2013 found that two-thirds of people were in support of this legislation. More recent surveys show that up to 90% of the country may support this law. That’s why there has been an intensive amount of adverse feedback to the Trump Administration’s moves to weaken the language of this protective measure in recent years.
11. The Endangered Species Act came about because of bipartisan efforts.
It is rare to see bipartisan support for transformative legislation, which is why the positive impacts of the Endangered Species Act are such a benefit. It sets a standard from the past that legislators today can look at as a standard for what people can do when they come together in compromise. When this law came up for a vote in Congress, it passed the Senate 92-0 and the House of Representatives 394-4. Even though the average person might not ever encounter most of the plants or animals that make the list, their contributions help to preserve habitats and species in ways that wouldn’t be possible otherwise.
List of the Disadvantages of the Endangered Species Act
1. There is an inadequate focus on recovery.
The species recovery rate under the Endangered Species Act is only 2%. That means the legislation has proven to be somewhat ineffective at its overall goal of preservation. Even though there are hundreds of plant and animal species that are engaged in a partial recovery, critics suggest that there isn’t enough that can be done with this option. Scientists estimate that about 230 different threatened species would have become extinct without this law, but that means another 1,400 would be able to survive without it.
Only three significant species receive consistent mention in the benefits of the Endangered Species Act: the bald eagle, California condor, and the red wolf.
2. The implementation of the Endangered Species Act is chronically under-funded.
The goals of the Endangered Species Act are lofty, but the same thing cannot be said of the funding that this legislation receives. Between the years of 1980 to 2014, the vast majority of recovery plans received severe underfunding. Only 9% of the projects received adequate funding, with another 5% of them being listed as “overfunded.” The remaining portion of the efforts did not receive the funding needed to achieve adequate funding.
The amount of funding per species across all programs through the Fish and Wildlife Service has decreased each year since 2010.
3. There are perceived delays in the implementation of the Endangered Species Act.
One of the most common complaints about the Endangered Species Act is that it stops planning and development through long consultations and expensive modifications. This disadvantage does exist at a small level, but it is a largely unsubstantiated belief about the law. Formal consultations represent a small portion of the total efforts that can lead to delays over the years, with most years coming in at 10% or less.
The average time for an informal consultation on a project that involved the Endangered Species Act was just 13 days between 2008-2014. Even a formal consultation averaged 62 days. Only 1 in 5 incidents exceeded the statutory limit of 135 days, which means almost 99% of all recorded consultations meet or exceed the established timelines.
4. The Endangered Species Act has minimal flexibility.
The language of the Endangered Species Act is almost identical to what it was over 30 years ago, which is when Congress last amended it. The difference in this legislation from the changes that happened in 1988 is that its administration is now dramatically different. Landowners have the option to enter into several different conservation agreements that keep declining species off of the endangered list. This process can also hasten the recovery of plants or animals already designated by the legislation while providing some regulatory predictability.
If administrators go by the letter of the law, then there isn’t much room to work if you need to go through a consultation. There is no guarantee that the person someone receives will be responsive, adaptable, or flexible with the implementation of the Endangered Species Act’s expectations.
5. It doesn’t address the core issues that impact plant and animal life in adverse ways.
Humans affect climate change because we are adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. This action reflects more sunlight back to the surface of the planet, altering the natural habitats that currently exist. We can use the Endangered Species Act to work on saving loggerhead turtles, but 90% of them are female because warmer temperatures impact their nesting conditions. This legislation does have the authority to stop carbon or methane emissions.
The Endangered Species Act doesn’t stop poaching either, although it does create penalties that include massive fines, jail time, or both. Most habitat loss is due to intensive agricultural projects, suburban sprawl, and oil exploitation. Unless there is the authority to make changes in these areas, this law will never have the teeth it needs to create meaningful impacts for many species.
6. Some activists use the legislation to invoke the law against unwanted projects.
One of the biggest criticisms of the Endangered Species Act is that it allows activists to target public works projects that they don’t want to see in their community. The Editorial Board at USA Today refers to these individuals as “not-in-my-backyard types.” “[When they] suddenly begin searching for some tiny, endangered crustacean in their neighborhoods just so they can invoke the law to stop a project, that’s exploiting the Endangered Species Act for selfish reasons.”
Most endangered species are found on privately-owned land. The law could help enlist owners who see themselves as being good stewards of their property to become partners in conservation.
The Endangered Species Act is the most robust law in any country that works to protect biodiversity. The purpose of this legislation is to prevent the extinction of the most at-risk plants and animals, encouraging an increase in their numbers to encourage an eventual recovery. Then that specific species can be removed from this list, like the bald eagle was in 2007.
Recent changes to the Endangered Species Act may change its advantages and disadvantages over time. The Trump Administration weakened the protections of wildlife that are designated as “threatened.” There are financial considerations in play when looking at how we safeguard the plants and animals that are endangered. The government has also authorized drilling, mining, and logging activities in critical habitat areas.
The current Endangered Species Act protects over 1,600 different plant and animal species in each state and territory. Most of them are undergoing a successful recovery process because of what this law provides. That’s why the benefits often outweigh any of the problems that can come up from this legislation.
Keith Miller has over 25 years of experience as a CEO and serial entrepreneur. As an entrepreneur, he has founded several multi-million dollar companies. As a writer, Keith's work has been mentioned in CIO Magazine, Workable, BizTech, and The Charlotte Observer. If you have any questions about the content of this blog post, then please send our content editing team a message here.