Endangered species

It's Only Fair to Pay People to Protect Endangered Species, Argues New Reason Foundation Study



An incisive new study, Fulfilling the Promise of the Endangered Species Act: The Case for an Endangered Species Reserve Program, by Reason Foundation research fellow Brian Seasholes deftly outlines a win-win-win strategy for protecting endangered species in the United States. The current dynamic in which private landowners and threatened species both lose is illustrated by the case of Missouri farmer Craig Schindler. Underneath Schindler's fields is a cave that harbors the grotto sculpin which the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service may soon declare "endangered." As the Reason Foundation study explains:

Based on an economic impact analysis carried out for Fish and Wildlife, the 18 acres Craig estimates he will have to sacrifice for the sculpin is worth some $90,000 and produces approximately $7,000 in crops annually. 

"They're cutting my living down," Craig told the local Perryville News, "I have cattle and grow crops, but if you take 18 acres away from a guy, that's quite a bit."

Fish and Wildlife also proposed to place buffer zones around sinkholes that lead to caves with sculpins. Under the listing, Craig could face up to $100,000 and/or a year in jail for killing or injuring just one sculpin, or even harming its habitat. So, in addition to losing the use of 18 acres, he will have to spend thousands of dollars to fence the buffer zone in order to prevent livestock on the rest of his ranch from inadvertently harming the sculpin. "I'm going to have to pay for this fence out of my pocket, and lose the ground for cattle to graze on," he said. But even that will not immunize him from prosecution under the ESA because local Fish and Wildlife personnel have the power to decide if his uses of other land, such as fertilizing crops and grazing livestock, harm the sculpin.

What must the government pay for demanding that Schindler give up the use of his land and protect the sculpin? Not a cent.

Seasholes continues:

With the proposed listing of the grotto sculpin, Craig Schindler discovered the upside-down world of the Endangered Species Act. In return for harboring rare wildlife, he was to be punished by having his property turned into a de factofederal wildlife refuge but paid no compensation.

This situation is in stark contrast to most other government "takings" of private property. For example, when the government wants to convert private land for a public good, such as a highway or military base, it pays landowners the market value for the land taken. It is legally required to do so because of the "takings clause" of the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution which states, "nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation." The takings clause seeks, "to bar Government from forcing some people alone to bear public burdens which, in all fairness and justice, should be borne by the public as a whole," according to a 1960 Supreme Court decision. But in a 1994 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that "partial" takings of the sort that Craig would experience as a result of a listing of the grotto sculpin are not protected by the Fifth Amendment. To add insult to injury, if the grotto sculpin were to be listed under the ESA, Craig would still have to pay taxes on the land he would not be able to use.

So what's the solution? As I noted in my 2005 critique of the ESA, "Who Pays for the Delhi Sand Fly?":

If the public values endangered species (and most of us do), then it seems only fair that we fully compensate the people on whose land they live for taking care of them for us.

Fortunately, argues Seasholes, the Conservation Reserve Program is a model for establishing an Endangered Species Reserve Program that would pay landowners for protecting species on behalf of the American public. The new Reason Foundation study goes on to show how such a program would benefit endangered species, the public, and landowners.

Disclosure: The Reason Foundation is the publisher of this website and Reason magazine.

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  1. If the public values endangered species (and most of us do)

    Assumes facts not in evidence.

    I place no special value on a species just because it can’t adapt and is dying out.

    1. Do you have numbers for that ‘most’ claim?

      1. UCS: Well there are several polls showing that most Americans are inclined to protect endangered species, including this one.

        1. Mmmmmmm, sculpin.

          Tastes like chicken.

          1. If it did, it probably wouldn’t be endangered.

            Save the animals. Eat them.

        2. That’s a press release from an environmental group, do you have the breakdown that shows how the question was asked and what other questions got asked leading into it?

          1. UCS: Actually, several are cited in the Reason Foundation study. How about this one from Harris?

          2. All of these poll questions should be phrased “How much would YOU PERSONALLY fork over to save endangered species”, I imagine a different outcome.

        3. Revealed preferences are what counts. Make the people pay for the property devaluation, externalities, and opportunity costs of keeping Darwinian failure species among us and see how they like it. Until then, please spare us your polls.

          1. This. I’ll treat these polls with as much reverence as I do the “90% support heightened background checks” poll, which is to say, none. It’s a simple thing to appreciate obvious benefits of a policy without considering (or even understanding) the exorbitant costs. I wonder how many people would support strengthening federal wildlife protections if they knew people were losing their livelihoods or, more commonly, killing the endangered animals who could threaten their livelihood.

            Paying considerable sums for “partial takings” (and ask this farmer if preventing him from using his own property constitutes a “partial taking”) is a half measure at best, but it would at least eliminate the perverse incentive for slaughtering the species that’s attracting unwanted federal attention.

            If the state were willing to pay rent to landowners for the presence of endangered species, I suspect many fewer of them would be endangered after 20 years.

  2. Thanks for this article Ron. I struggle with is animal rights because I am an animal lover but feel to avoid moral/legal issues animals must be viewed as property. I could see where a private group collects donations to buy land reserves and pay land owners to protect endangered species. That way peoples rights aren’t violated while protecting rare animals.

    1. I have the same dilemma.

      With wild animals, I think it is even trickier. Unless they are confined to one person’s land, it is hard to see them as private property. And my gut tells me that they have some sort of right to exist and to use the land for their needs. But I have no idea how to make the law both respect human rights, particularly property rights, and leave some place for wild animals. I think that we just have to trust and hope that enough people value animals enough to spend their own money making sure they have a place in the world.

        1. Yes, I love pointing out to squeamish vegetarians and animal rights folk that hunters are the most effective conservationists and people paying to kill them is probably the only way large mammals like elephants and rhinos will be preserved into the future.

  3. It’s our natural obligation to kill off any lesser species that is to weak to continue surviving on it’s own.

    1. They are not weak, they are just highly specialized.
      I am certain this critter could be transplanted to other places.

      1. I’m just trolling.

      2. Suthenboy|9.30.14 @ 2:00PM|#
        …”I am certain this critter could be transplanted to other places.”

        Maybe that one, but how much has the Condor ‘preservation’ cost us by now? For a bird evolved to eat the remains of the fauna caught in the La Brea tar pits.

        1. The wife and I took a weekend drive through the mountains of Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, and Ventura counties back in June. There were at least hundreds of condors flying around. I think it’s safe to say they aren’t endangered any more. $2.6 billion well spent!

        2. An old friend of mine, recently deceased, told me that back in the late sixties he was hiking around the desert in southern California practicing his quick draw on jackrabbits when he saw a condor flying overhead.

          He took a half-hearted pot shot at the thing. It was over 200 feet up and he was shooting a ruger blackhawk in 45 colt, factory ammo ( pretty feeble stuff) so he thought he had no hope of hitting it.

          The bullet hit the buzzard solid, instantly killing it stone dead. Oooops! He said he ran back to his truck and high-tailed it out of there before the damn thing hit the ground.

          1. Did he shout “It coming right for us!” before he shot? I think that makes it OK.

            1. I always carry a drop gun for when I go hunting. It works for the cops!

  4. Personally, if this were my land being taken, I’d make sure that nothing could live there for the next 25 years before I left it. FYTW right back.

    1. Yeah, because after the marshals take you into custody to transport you to Leavenworth after your conviction for violating the endangered species act, the EPA guys will be saying regretfully, “we tangled with the wrong guy!”

      1. If the glove doesn’t fit, you must acquit.

        1. ‘Zactly. Buy the bags of 2-4-d hundreds of miles away. Pour in cavern in the dead of night. Dispose of bags hundreds of miles away. Shower thoroughly. Return home.

          1. 2,4-D?

            Copper (II) Sulfate FTW.

  5. First, a partial taking is a taking. The Nazgul need their asses kicked, every one of ’em.

    I am wondering how any of these fish are still around. The perverse incentives created by the ESA have caused the death of countless members of listed species and this seems like a prime case for some anonymous dumping of poison. Didn’t that happen in Nevada to a cave fish not so long ago?

    1. Another example of The Nine taking the clear meaning of the Constitution and “interpreting” it into meaning the complete fucking opposite.

      I would love to read their justification. Anyone know the name of that case?

      The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.- WS

  6. The only question I have is what sort of batter would you fry that thing in? My go-to recipe is beer, bread crumbs, and egg but I’m open to suggestions.

    1. I’d go with spiced flour, egg wash, and corn meal. Then fry it.

    2. Nah, its more like a catfish. You need corn in the batter.

  7. “…research fellow Brian Seasholes…”

    Is that like an asshole of the sea?

  8. “They’re cutting my living down,” Craig told the local Perryville News

    I hate to break it to you Mr. Craig, but that’s the entire point. You aren’t adequately dependent on government, so you need to be “corrected”.

  9. Oh hell no. I’m not paying for bats I don’t even want.

  10. The building where my office is, the elevators are serviced by this company. They might as well call themselves Schindler’s Lifts.

    1. “They might as well call themselves Schindler’s Lifts.”

      Near the courthouse in SF is a street named Bluxome. On it before the ’89 quake was a business named Bluxome Bonds.


  11. Since the money to pay people to protect said animals is forcibly extracted from tax payers, I am not sure that is anymore fair. How about the Nature Conservancy pay for it?

    1. Doesn’t carry the weight of the state behind it.

      1. And that matters why?

        1. Less violence?

    2. Agreed. This could be a business model. Sell items branded with wildlife protection name, pay the farmers, get pictures to show off of the money at work. Social signaling is huge. Think of it, t-shirts with the animal saved printed on it that could be worn to the local coffee shop. Everybody wins brother.

      1. They don’t want to put their money where their mouth is, they want to put Your money where their mouth is.

        1. That is the trick. I’m selling smug like a Prius, but unlike a Prius I would actually help the environment. The tree huggers would line up to wear animal love brand crap so they can show everyone how much they care.

    3. This reminds me of a funny story.

      I was walking with my then toddler-aged son to a playground, when two people I recognized from the neighborhood accosted me. They had clipboards.

      They explained they were trying to preserve the last strip of wilderness in Cambridge. Apparently some of the land was privately owned and recently had been purchased by a developer.

      They wanted me to sign a petition asking for the governor to prevent the developer developing the land. I politely inquired if they were planning on buying the land first? At first they didn’t understand the question. Then they got very hurt. The lady said something to the effect that preserving the land was the right thing to do, so the petitioners shouldn’t have to pay to make the developer do the right thing. Very depressing conversation; all these people knew was using political aggression to get their way.

  12. But in a 1994 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that “partial” takings of the sort that Craig would experience as a result of a listing of the grotto sculpin are not protected by the Fifth Amendment.

    He retains legal title to land rendered worse than useless by government decree. Seems fair.

    1. And the Supreme Court’s rationalization for rubber stamping a clearcut violation of the takings clause was what, exactly?

  13. I concluded, years ago, after construction of bluebird houses and wood duck boxes, that it’s all part of God’s plan. Where in hell does a bluebird find a hole in a tree 4″x4″ with a 1.5″ opening? Quick answer is, he doesn’t, and may fall victim to starlings.
    Likewise the wood duck, if he/she cannot locate a tree standing in 4 feet of water with a cavity 12″x12″x28″ with a 4″ hole, can fall prey to polecats.
    Reason #54,026 why there aren’t many bluebirds or wood ducks.
    Some relief can come with making them legal to shoot and eat. Duck and bluebird hunters will painstakingly make thousands of the things to encourage the growth of more targets.
    The whole survival of these mud puppies should be determined on how tasty they are.
    Free market at work.

  14. But why should we compensate farmers for their losses, when we can just order them to do what we want?

    After all, these landowners are making profits off of nature, which is, like evil and stuff, so harming them and taking their profits away is like social justice, you know?
    Anyway hurting nature is bad, and we should hurt the farmers back to get revenge.

  15. Where in hell does a bluebird find a hole in a tree 4″x4″ with a 1.5″ opening? Quick answer is, he doesn’t

    There are lots of mountain bluebirds where I live. There are special bluebird houses all over the place, put up by the neighbors, for the benefit of the bluebirds. They couldn’t possibly survive without manmade bird houses. I looked out the window one day this spring, and noticed some unusual bluebird activity around one of my vehicles. Upon closer observation, I discovered they were building a nest inside the rear fender, where it had rusted through.

    So much for exacting tolerances and specialized construction.

  16. I don’t know, Ronald…you must be a glutton for punishment. But thanks for a thoughtful article, and letting us know of the study.

    Relatedly, today the WWF and London Zoological Society put out a study that says the population of wild animals has been halved over the past 40 years. The part that relates is this: the fastest area of decline was found in freshwater ecosystems, where the decline has been an astonishing 75%.


    There…maybe I can be a “barb absorber” for you for a couple of minutes.

    1. Well, “Population sizes of vertebrate species measured by the LPI have halved over the last 40 years.” which is bad, but not what you said.

      The real question is what is the alternative? Even if rich countries do a whole lot to protect their own biodiversity, do you really think that people in poorer countries are going to stop eating everything that moves and using land as they must to support their families?
      The best solution to those problems is more private property and better protection of property rights.

      1. “We have lost one half of the animal population…”
        Mike Barratt, Director of Science and Policy, WWF


        I have no problem with libertarian solutions to the problem…even the study Ronald cites seems to suggest some. The problem is when one doesn’t even recognize there is an issue…as evidenced by so many comments here, or that most people, like you, are concerned about it.

        1. Not sure I said that clearly (like always). I recognize that you see the problem, I’m just not so sure many others here do recognize it. And as Ronald tried to indicate above, most Americans want the endangered species act strengthened.

  17. Endangered Species act

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