Increase Funding for Endangered Species Act?

Passed in the early 1970s as one of the first in a wave of environmental policies in the United States, The Endangered Species Act has become the cornerstone of wildlife and nature conservation[1]. The protections that it offers have saved numerous iconic species from extinction including the humpback whale, the bald eagle, the grey wolf, and the Florida manatee[2]. But, there are still over 2300 species of both plants and animals currently listed as threatened or endangered[3]. These species deserve protection and conservation efforts, but at what cost?

 

In the current budget for the Fiscal Year 2019, endangered species conservation is allocated $252 million for five programs conducted by the US Fish and Wildlife Services[4]. However, on February 26, 2019, several groups, including the Defenders of Wildlife, the Sierra Club, and the Natural Resources Defense Council, authored a letter urging the House of Representatives to increase that budget to $486 million, which would provide a minimum of $50,000 to the recovery efforts of each listed species per year, the ideal allocation of the funds[5]. According to the letter, hundreds of those species receive less than $1000 per year, and some receive none[6]. This increase in funding will allow the US Fish and Wildlife Service to properly execute conservation efforts of endangered species. Not only do these species have inherent value, but they also provide for and benefit human populations. However, without ample funding, many of these species are doomed.

 

It costs money to save endangered species. Research must be funded, employees must be paid, technology must be developed. For instance, the red wolf, one of the most critically endangered species in the United States with only 40 creatures left in the wild, received $1,248,387 of funding from the USFWS in the Fiscal Year 2014[7],[8]. This funding was used to ship captive-bred species to the wildlife refuge in North Carolina, provide tracking collars for the wild wolves, and different strategies used to maintain the population[9]. While the red wolf has had the highest budgetary allocation in the Southeast region, officials still believe it has been inadequate to save the species because of the critical nature of its status[10]. This species is well on its way to extinction unless it is fully supported and maintained, which comes at an economic cost. However, I believe that it is worth it to save the red wolf. So do an overwhelming number of residents in North Carolina, the only state where the red wolf can be found in the wild[11]. Not only is biological diversity important for the ecosystem, but the red wolf also has its own value. It is a keystone species in the ecosystems in which it lives, which means its presence and absence has a large impact on the surrounding area[12]. Without it, other species’ populations could grow too small or too large, which could impact human activities. For example, the red wolf preys on the rabbit[13]. Without the red wolf to maintain the rabbit population, the rabbits could become an unwanted nuisance to humans, eating farmers crops or the neighbor’s pansies.

 

Red Wolf, an endangered, but important, species[14]

 

It is estimated that over 60% of the land in the United States is privately owned[15]. Many endangered species exist on and depend on these private lands for habitat necessary for their survival[16]. Protecting these species comes at a cost to private landowners. Some invest their own money into providing the ideal habitat for these species or avoid certain management actions, like clearcutting trees, that would provide them with a greater profit. Other landowners enter into voluntary agreements with the USFWS that restrict the actions that can be done on the property[17]. In order to enact and enforce these regulations and agreements, the USFWS needs employees, lawyers, and biologist, who all must be paid. With greater funding for conservation efforts, private landowners could potentially be reimbursed for the profits they are forsaking which could incentivize more private landowners to participate in voluntary and beneficial agreements.

 

While there are costs associated with saving endangered species, there are also benefits. By increasing funding for the protection and potential savior of endangered species, not only do creatures with intrinsic value stay in existence, but there can also be positive economic benefits for humans: there are often non-market benefits known as ecosystem services caused by conservation efforts[18]. These services can lower the costs of health effects of pollution, reduce the effects and costs of climate change, and many other benefits[19]. A study performed in 2011 found that ecosystem services would produce over a trillion dollars in economic activity, over 100 billion dollars in tax revenues, and over 9 million jobs[20]. This would be through tourism, recreation activities on the protected lands, health benefits, and more[21]. The proposed increase in funding would allow these benefits to come to fruition. Without the plants and animals that provide these services, the positive effects will not occur. Write your congressmen urging them to work for an increase in funding for the Endangered Species so that species like the red wolf and other endangered species that provide so many benefits can survive for generations to come.

[1] US Fish and Wildlife Service, “Endangered Species Act overview,” https://www.fws.gov/endangered/laws-policies/

[2] Darryl Fears, “These creatures faced extinction. The Endangered Species Act saved them,” The Washington Post, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/animalia/wp/2017/03/11/eight-animals-saved-from-extinction-by-the-endangered-species-act/?utm_term=.52a8d6071758, (March 11, 2017).

[3] US Fish and Wildlife Service, “Listed Species Summary (Boxscore,” https://ecos.fws.gov/ecp0/reports/box-score-report

[4] Stephanie Kurose, “Congress urged to fully fund Endangered Species Act with $486 million,” Center for Biological Diversity, https://www.biologicaldiversity.org/news/press_releases/2019/endangered-species-budget-02-26-2019.php, (February 26, 2019).

[5] Stephanie Kurose, “Congress urged to fully fund Endangered Species Act with $486 million.”

[6] All-Creatures.org et al, “Endangered Species Act funding letter,” letter, https://www.biologicaldiversity.org/campaigns/esa/pdfs/community_ESA_funding_letter.pdf, (February 26, 2019).

[7] Kelli Bender, “There are only 40 red wolves left in the wild,” People Magazine, https://people.com/pets/40-red-wolves-left-in-the-wild/, (April 25, 2018).

[8] US Fish and Wildlife Service, “Red wolf allocation,” https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/data/red-wolf-budget-1999-2014.pdf, (2014).

[9] Wildlife Management Institute, Inc, “A comprehensive review and evaluation of the red wolf (canis rufus) recovery program,” https://www.coastalreview.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/WMI-Red-Wolf-Review-FINAL-11_14_14.pdf, (October 14, 2014).

[10] Wildlife Management Institute, Inc, “A comprehensive review and evaluation of the red wolf (canis rufus) recovery program.”

[11] Haley McKey et al, “Public overwhelmingly supports protecting wild red wolves,” Center for Biological Diversity, https://www.biologicaldiversity.org/news/press_releases/2017/red-wolf-08-14-2017.php, (August 14, 2017).

[12] Florida State University, “Habitat tracker- red wolf,” http://tracker.cci.fsu.edu/redwolf/about/what/, (2019).

[13] US Fish and Wildlife Service, “Red wolf,” https://www.fws.gov/southeast/wildlife/mammals/red-wolf/, (n.d.).

[14] US Fish and Wildlife Service, “Red wolf.”

[15] Amos Eno, Willard Dyche, & Laura Mass, “State of the land: A brief inventory of public and private land in the United States,” Resources First Foundation, https://www.landcan.org/pdfs/StateoftheLand.pdf, (n.d.).

[16] Randy Kautz et al, “How much is enough? Landscape-scale conservation for the Florida Panther,” Biological Conservation, https://www.biologicaldiversity.org/programs/population_and_sustainability/urban_wildlands/pdfs/Kautz_et_al_2006_BiolCons.pdf, (3 February, 2006).

[17] US Fish and Wildlife Service, “Safe Harbor Agreements,” https://www.fws.gov/endangered/landowners/landowners-faq.html, (n.d.).

[18] The Biodiversity Information System for Europe, “Ecosystem services,” https://biodiversity.europa.eu/topics/ecosystem-services.

[19] Justin Worland, “The Endangered Species Act is criticized for its costs. But it generates more than $1 trillion a year,” Time Magazine, http://time.com/5347260/endangered-species-act-reform/, (July 25, 2018).

[20] Southwick Associates, “The economics associated with outdoor recreation, natural resources conservation and historic preservation in the United States,” https://www.fws.gov/refuges/news/pdfs/TheEconomicValueofOutdoorRecreation[1].pdf, (October 10, 2011).

[21] Worland, “The Endangered Species Act is criticized for its costs. But it generates more that $1 trillion a year.”

3 thoughts on “Increase Funding for Endangered Species Act?

  1. Seeing the numbers that would be allocated to each species with the proposed budget increase was astounding–I cannot imagine saving an entire species on only $50,000, yet most only get about a thousand as I read in this article. I think I am left wondering which species are prioritized for funding currently, and how that prioritization is decided. In my mind, I think a natural way to prioritize species would be to look into the costs that we as a society and other animals would incur if said species did go extinct. I imagine this cost could be quantified relatively easily for some species. If a plant species going extinct meant the animals who depend on the plant would not be able to find a substitute and this animal population were large, then I would rank this as a higher priority than a plant species that is not crucial to any animal’s diet. Inherently, I tend to value animals over plants and view plants in the context of how they affect animals and humans. So I think there would need to be lots of different voices at the table in this discussion to figure this out. Also, I did not know before reading this blog post that North Carolina contains such an important wolf species! That is exciting to learn but also unfortunate given their complete lack of individuals in their population. Also, I wonder if there is any separate funding that North Carolina could muster for the protection of the red wolves?

  2. I like how you focused on how endangered species provide ecosystem services. This is important because while I agree that endangered species have intrinsic value, pouring funds into protecting many unpopular endangered species for the sole sake of ensuring their existence is not a very politically popular strategy. Highlighting how these species provide ecosystem services, however, is a good way to get people to care about species they would otherwise not care about protecting.

    Additionally, I thought your example of the red wolf was interesting in that even though wolf conservation efforts receive the highest budgetary allocation in the Southeast region, the species is still very much in danger. This highlights to me how important it is that conservation techniques and campaigns make efficient use of the funds they are given as to achieve their goals without wasting money. This may involve scientific research that helps illuminate the best techniques and management practices available. It also raises the question of whether or not the government has the duty to try to protect a species that is past the brink of saving. If increased funds through this proposed act were to fail to save the wolf, at what point do we stop increasing funds to save a species that may not be savable?

  3. I find the proposal to give a minimum of $50,000 per year to each listed species very interesting. If approved, I think it is obvious that the actual spending on each species will be drastically different. While smaller, lesser-known species may have the funding, will it be used for them? Or will it be allocated to other more popular species. And does a more popular species always have a higher “value”? That is, is it really “worth it” to save the popular species. It is very interesting to see even now which species get the most funding for their conservation.

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