ESA and effects on private landowners


Today at the Volokh Conspiracy Jonathan Adler pointed to his new commentary at the Resources for the Future, "Perverse Incentives and the Endangered Species Act."  His article is a short but important discussion on the lack of incentives for private landowners to protect endangered species, which in turn makes it more difficult for the objectives of the ESA to be achieved.  According to Professor Adler,

In the most basic terms, the ESA discourages the creation and maintenance of species habitat on private land by penalizing it. Specifically, under Section 9 of the act, it is illegal for a private landowner to engage in activities that could harm an endangered species, including habitat modification, without first obtaining a federal permit. Knowing violations can lead to fines of up to $25,000 and even jail time.

Such regulations can reduce private land values and antagonize private landowners who might otherwise cooperate with conservation efforts. This is because Section 9 turns endangered species into economic liabilities. The discovery of an endangered species on private land imposes costs but few, if any, benefits.

As a solution, Professor Adler advocates for voluntary conservation incentives for private landowners and notes that there have been successful experiments with this idea.  For more, be sure to read the article.