Survival of different species depends on their potential to adapt to their changing environment. However, it is not always possible for species to adapt to their changing surroundings which eventually leads to their extinction. To everyone’s dismay, in the past century, several animal and plant species have been disappearing at a very rapid rate. We, humans, are considered to be the cause of the biggest extinction on the earth. Due to the growing population and economic needs, habitat of various plants and animals are being destroyed, which has eventually led to the ongoing Earth’s sixth mass extinction (Briggs, 2017).
For many decades, the subject of endangered species has been very controversial. However, it should always be considered that extinction has led to reduced biodiversity and number of extinct species will probably rise in future because of our need to overuse the environment. At this point of time people may not see reduced diversity as a problem, but what they fail to notice is that without biodiversity there will be no food security in the future, and there will be more diseases in the environment (Feldkamp, 2017). It is the responsibility of the government and the citizens to reduce threats to the endangered species of plants and animals. An initiative called the Endangered Species Act was taken to conserve the threatened or endangered species. The Endangered Species Act or ESA was passed under President Nixon in 1973 (‘ESA Basics,’ 2013).
According to Schwartz (2008), the primary motive of the law was to ensure the protection and conservation of threatened and endangered species, mainly due to rapid economic growth. This law was enforced to ensure that the government and citizens would take appropriate action to save the species in danger. The Endangered Species Act is co-administered by the Interior Department’s U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the Department of Commerce’s National and Fisheries Service (NMFS). The FWS is responsible for terrestrial and freshwater organisms whereas the NMFS handles marine wildlife (‘ESA Basics.’ 2013).
With ESA, people can identify the species that are nearing extinction and take appropriate steps to protect them. ESA also urge citizens not to destroy habitats of the endangered and threatened species and make their surrounding pollution free. Over the years, the punishment given to offenders of the law has drastically reduced the number of killing and hunting of the endangered species (Schwartz, 2009). With all these advantages, ESA also has some limitations, and one of them is the way species are identified as threatened or endangered. According to the article published by U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, ESA lists the species by evaluating the damage or destruction of a species’ habitat and the number of species’ being utilized for commercial or educational use. FWS also considers diseases and other human-made or natural factors that affect the existence of a species (“ESA Basics”,2013). However, it takes a long time to list a species as endangered or threatened, and by the time many species make it to the list, they are at the verge of extinction (Schwartz,2008). The biggest issue that the ESA faces is that many private landowners are not ready to undertake the actions to conserve the species as they feel they are not compensated well and are expected to fulfill several strict regulations.
According to Sorice et al. (2011) integrating well-implemented incentive programs into conservation may help in protecting the species as the imposed regulations are encouraging landowners to ‘shoot, shovel and shut up’. Other limitations of ESA include insufficient data about the species that are nearing extinction and limited budget. Brown and Shogren (1998) mentioned that in 1996 there were about 200 species, which were thought to be in danger but since sufficient data was not found, they were not included in the list. Conservation of species requires a significant sum of money, and no explicit consideration was given to the economics when the act was passed in 1973. The law was designed to save all species, and recovery plans were not created in a proper way which led to various controversies about spending too much money on the conservation of species.
Over the years, the Endangered Species Act has prevented approximately 99% enlisted species from going extinct (‘ESA Basics, 2013). However, a possible future amendment may hinder the progress of the Endangered Species Act. Until now, the FWS and NMFS have made decisions regarding the protection of species just based on the available science (“Our endangered species program and how it works with landowners”, 2009), without giving much consideration to economics. However, the future developments may limit the involvement of the biology in the law and increase economic consideration when listing or delisting the species. According to Johnson (2018), the bill proposed by Congress may require the state government’s approval in listing or delisting the species, which eventually inserts politics into the conservation of species and will demolish the role in the protection of species. By considering the economics, the government may not list every species as threatened or endangered; rather it may look for the species that can be restored at a faster rate as they may not want to spend millions of dollars to save a species that has less than 10 percent chance of being sustained (Johnson, 2018).
The ESA & private lands
As of January 2013, two-thirds of federally listed species are found to have some form of habitat on private lands (‘ESA Basics’, 2013). The ESA has imposed various restrictions on the private parties. According to the ESA, it is illegal to ‘take’ the listed species. ‘Take’ by the ESA is defined as misconducting, harassing, killing, hunting, trapping or collecting the species (Schwartz, 2009). Private landowners also have to refrain from logging, farming or building home, as it may lead to an adverse modification of the habitat of the endangered species (Rachlinski, 1998). These policies by the ESA were heavily criticized as they were thought to encourage the landowners not to save the endangered species (Rachlinski,1998).
Since then the FWS has decided to build a cooperative relationship with private landowners to ensure the conservation and protection of the species. Several programs have been introduced to encourage the private landowners to help in conserving the species. The Safe Harbor Agreement (SHA) is considered as one of the most used agreements between the private landowners and the ESA regulators. SHA is a voluntary agreement, according to which if the landowner willingly participates in the recovery of the listed species on non-federal land, then in return the participating landowner will get a formal reassurance from the service that it will not limit the use of the land without its consent (U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, 2018b).
The SHA works with the participating landowners and helps them in identifying the actions that they can take to benefit the species. Under section 10 (a)(1)(B), the Fish and Wildlife Service also issues an incidental ‘take’ permits to private landowners in situations where the activities or projects conducted on the land can result in incidental take of the listed species (U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, 2018b). The SHA has been successfully protecting the beetles and grape growers in the central valley of California. The agreement allows the private landowner to continue their normal farming activities, but in they must restore and maintain the dense riparian forest of the Mokelumne River, which is the habitat of longhorn beetles (U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, 2018c).
Another agreement that was has been introduced between the Service, and private landowners are called The Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances (“Our endangered species program and how it works with landowners”, 2009). This agreement was designed to conserve the species for which the Service has enough biological information but can’t be listed because of the listing activities that have higher priorities. Per this agreement, the landowners voluntarily contribute towards the conservation of candidate species and in return, they get a formal assurance from the Services that without their consent, no additional land or water use limitation will be imposed on them if the species is listed as endangered later (U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, 2017a).
Conservation banking is another way through which listed species are protected. According the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (2018a), through conservation banking, the landowners sell a part of their land or species credits to those people who need to compensate for the adverse impact on species because of their projects or activities. This way landowners also get money and still retains the title to their lands.
The species are also conserved and protected as they get a habitat that is exclusively managed for them. In addition to the agreements, the Services has also introduced various grants. Under section 6 of the Endangered Species Act, The Cooperative Endangered Species Conservation Fund is responsible for providing funding to the states and territories for the conservation of species that have habitat on non-public lands (U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, 2017b). However, the states and territories are supposed to contribute at least 25 percent of the program costs of approved projects. In this way species are conserved as well as no single party is solely responsible for paying the total price of the project.
Pros and Cons of restricting the use of private lands
Use of private land to protect endangered special has always been a volatile topic. To build a cooperative relation with the land the FWS had developed various incentive factors. However, several factors such as compensation, development of land, and rapid economic growth that can lead to clashes with private property owners. Reducing threats to the endangered and threatened species has always been the goal of the ESA and to protect the species restriction on the use of private land can be considered as an option. However, the restriction of private land use comes with its advantages and disadvantages. Approximately, 97% of the land in Texas is privately owned (Wilcove et al., 2004), with the restriction on the use of private land use, endangered species will have a considerable advantage as they will have the land exclusively managed for them. With restriction, more endangered plants and animals could be conserved which is very important for medicinal purposes.
Many of our medicine come from the plants (Veeresham, 2012). Due to the extinction of plants and animals, scientist may not discover new cures and drugs. Restriction will cause less hunting, poaching , and less habitat destruction as people will be prohibited to use the land. Ventar et al. (2006) mentioned that 84% of species Canada are declining because of habitat loss. Restriction of the land use will also diminish the need of biological survey on the land as there are many landowners who are not willing to report the survey result as they don’t want to attract any regulatory attention to them (Mir & Dick, 2012). Since the land use will be restricted, no incidental permits will be provided which will further help in protecting the species.
According to the survey conducted by Brook et al. (2003) it was found 26% of the actions taken by the landowners to protect the Preble’s meadow jumping mouse were harmful, but since landowners had incidental permit the actions were termed as unintentional. Another advantage of restricting the use of private land use is the money that is used to compensate the private landowner to harbor the species can be used to list more species. The FWS usually has a small budget and many species cannot be placed onto the list because of fewer funds. Every three years, approximately $5 million are compensated to the private landowner by Congress to carry out the actions to benefit the endangered or candidate species on their land (Olive, 2016). This money can be saved, if the use of private property is restricted.
The most significant disadvantage of restricting private land use is an increase in the cost of harboring a listed species (Rachlinski, 1998). There is no proper compensation for the landowners who suffer financial losses by ensuring the protection of the habitat (Innes et al., 1998). If private land use is not restricted on private lands, then landowner can use a part of their land per their wish under the various incentive programs and can also make money from it by farming, logging, and home building.
According to the survey conducted by Raymond and Schneider (2014), 49% of the participating landowners believed in protecting the endangered species but did not want their property to be regulated by the government. They wanted to have more flexibility regarding the use of their land. As mentioned earlier, conserving species on private lands requires a big sum of money. Innes et al. (1998) commented on the conservation plan on private land in San Diego which required approximately $260-$360 million and these projects are not possible without the contributions from the landowners. Restriction on the use of private land would reduce the assistance from landowners and the FWS may have to hire more people which is not always possible as the FWS is usually on a small budget (Rachlinski, 1998). Lack of aid from the landowners and less funds may reduce the amount of habitat for endangered species. Another disadvantage of the restriction of private land use is that it will cause harm to the species are declining, but are not placed onto the list.
Support for the Endangered Species Act will reduce (Bean, 2006) as landowners may start fearing the discovery of candidate species on their land. They may find ways to destroy the habitat of the endangered species as they do not want to be included into this program as they are not ready to give up their land (Bean & Wilcove, 1997 and Theobald & Hobbs, 2002). This argument can be supported by intentions of Benjamin Cone, a forest owner in North Carolina owner who lost $2 million because he was denied logging on his land to protect the red-cockaded woodpecker. He made it clear he would destroy the habitat but would not give up the land (Langpap, 2004). Similarly, Zhang (2004) mentioned that private landowners are 25% more likely to destroy the habits when they discover red-cockaded woodpecker of on their land.
Restricting the land use may cause them landowners to start maintaining their property in an uninviting way (Kinnaird & O’Brien, 2012 and Innes, 2000) which will result in species not being attracted towards their lands. With the restriction on private land, listing a species may become a problem for the FWS. Rachlinski (1998) mentioned that to list a species, the FWS must publish in the newspaper about their intent to listing a species. The FWS may face opposition from the local landowners which often leads to expensive litigation, and the FWS may delay its decision about listing the species.
As mentioned earlier, approximately half of the listed species have their habitat on private lands, and restricting the use of individual is not fair to the citizens as well as the economy. Our economy is proliferating, limiting the use of private land may lead to many political as well as economic issues. Private landowners don’t want to give up their lands as they have invested a lot amount of money into them, and for them saving a species may not be that important as it is to regulators of the ESA. However, it should also be noted that humans are the reason behind the reduced diversity, and we should take appropriate actions to save it. The best way to restore our biodiversity is to work cooperatively. The Service needs to build a strong collaborative relationship with private landowners to encourage them to save biodiversity. The best way to initiate a strong relationship with the private landowner is to educate them about the various incentive programs that are available for the private landowner. Most of the landowners are reluctant in contributing towards protecting the ecosystem because they feel participating in this program will limit their land use.
Since many landowners don’t know about the incentives programs, they may try to destroy the habitat as they don’t want to engage themselves in the legal process. If proper information is provided to them at an early stage, landowners may not take such drastic steps and will be more willing to help in conserving the endangered or threatened species. Since most of the private landowners reside in rural areas, they may not have access to the internet. Conducting seminars in rural areas about the programs will give them a better view of the ESA as most of them feels that presence of endangered species on their lands, means that they must give up their lands. The Service can guide them about what actions should be taken to benefit the species and reduce the chance of incidental taking. Discussion panel should be conducted to alleviate landowners’ economic concerns as this will help the ESA regulators to get an insight into landowners’ perspectives.
Another way the Service and private landowners can work collaboratively is to conduct a biological survey before buying the land to know about the presence of listed species; this way the landowners will know and identify the species and can decide if they want to buy the land. In the future, if they decide to buy the land, then they are responsible for protecting and conserving the species. The survey will ensure that the private landowners are consenting to protect endangered and threatened species and will not take any step that will cause harm them. Lastly, we humans don’t have any right to overuse the environment and instead of finding flaws in every program imitated by the FWS, we should try to cooperate with them.
Similarly, the rules and regulations by the FWS should be implemented in such a way that landowners would not want to free themselves from the regulations and rather they would be willing to contribute towards saving the endangered and threatened species (Polasky & Doremus, 1998). Every species has an equal right, and therefore, not only the Service and the government, but citizens should also work and give their best to conserve our biodiversity.