The Endangered Species Act (ESA) is intended to protect and recover rare species. Yet instead of achieving these goals, the ESA has counterproductively imposed burdensome and costly regulations on landowners who preserved those species’ habitat. For decades, PLF has pushed to correct this basic flaw in the law, recognizing that an Endangered Species Act more respective of property rights will also work better for wildlife.
However, a recent article in The Guardian, commenting on improvements to the ESA, ignores the positive effect the reform has on endangered species and offers only overheated rhetoric to attack PLF and mislead readers.
When Congress enacted the Endangered Species Act, it established two categories of protected species: “Endangered” species are at immediate risk of extinction. “Threatened” species are not currently at risk but may become endangered in the foreseeable future. Congress reasonably chose to regulate these categories differently due to the significant differences in the threats they face, limiting the strictest regulation of private property owners for endangered species.
But in 1978, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service enacted a new rule (commonly called the “blanket 4d rule”) that eliminated any distinction between endangered and threatened species. Not only was this unlawful, because agencies don’t have the power to simply overrule Congress, it also harmed both property owners and animal species needing protection. By imposing the same heavy regulatory burdens on property owners regardless of a species’ status, the rule eliminated important incentives for landowners to help recover species. The blanket 4d rule led to an abysmally low recovery rate for endangered and threatened species. Over the past 45 years, less than 2% of such species have recovered.
Thankfully, earlier this year the Department of the Interior announced the repeal of the blanket 4d rule. This announcement was in response to several rulemaking petitions submitted by PLF.
Repealing the blanket 4d rule better aligns landowners’ incentives with the interests of rare species. Now the government will reduce regulatory burdens on property owners as species recover and increase regulatory burdens if species decline. In other words, now property owners have real motivation to help recover endangered and threatened species. Therefore, repealing the counterproductive blanket 4d rule will significantly boost the endangered species recovery rate while strengthening the rights of property owners.
This reform is a win for property rights advocates and wildlife advocates alike.
But despite the benefits for endangered species that come from repealing the blanket 4d rule, The Guardian article offers conspiracy theories and empty rhetoric to paint PLF as undermining protections for wildlife.
Ironically, The Guardian story was published the same week that we filed an amicus brief urging the Supreme Court to side with property owners and environmentalists in a dispute against an industrial polluter. But according to The Guardian, PLF must be blindly working to harm the environment because of our supposed “deep connections to commercial interests.”
PLF is not for or against big business. We’re driven by a different mission: to defend individual liberty so that people are free to improve themselves, their families, and their communities (including by improving the environment) without government interference. We are fortunate to enjoy the generous support of a diverse group of donors who share this commitment to liberty.
Even if The Guardian continues to misunderstand our work and pushes dishonest narratives, PLF will continue to champion property rights as the most effective way to reform the Endangered Species Act and actually recover endangered species.