Unintended Consequences of the Endangered Species Act

I’ve posted on research on the Endangered Species Act earlier. Yesterday, Freakonomics’s Stephen J. Dubner mentioned an earlier post of theirs which discusses the unintended consequences of it (Dubner draws a parallel to other protective laws with similar unintended consequences):

Consider the Endangered Species Act (E.S.A.) of 1973, which protects flora and fauna as well as their physical habitats. The economists Dean Lueck and Jeffrey Michael wanted to gauge the E.S.A.’s effect on the red-cockaded woodpecker, a protected bird that nests in old-growth pine trees in eastern North Carolina. By examining the timber harvest activity of more than 1,000 privately owned forest plots, Lueck and Michael found a clear pattern: when a landowner felt that his property was turning into the sort of habitat that might attract a nesting pair of woodpeckers, he rushed in to cut down the trees. It didn’t matter if timber prices were low.

This happened less than two years ago in Boiling Spring Lakes, N.C. “Along the roadsides,” an A.P. article reported, “scattered brown bark is all that’s left of once majestic pine stands.” As sad as this may be, it isn’t surprising to anyone who has examined the perverse incentives created by the E.S.A. In their paper, Lueck and Michael cite a 1996 developers’ guide from the National Association of Home Builders: “The highest level of assurance that a property owner will not face an E.S.A. issue is to maintain the property in a condition such that protected species cannot occupy the property.”

[…]

In a new working paper that examines the plight of the cactus ferruginous pygmy owl, the economists John List, Michael Margolis and Daniel Osgood found that landowners near Tucson rushed to clear their property for development rather than risk having it declared a safe haven for the owl. The economists make the argument for “the distinct possibility that the Endangered Species Act is actually endangering, rather than protecting, species.”

The article concludes: “…if there is any law more powerful than the ones constructed in a place like Washington, it is the law of unintended consequences.”

Stay tuned and I will use that exact quote from the List, Margolis and Osgood paper in my own research!

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One Response to “Unintended Consequences of the Endangered Species Act”

  1. Superfreakonomics by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner « Kvams Says:

    […] in the real world (“Sure, it works in practice, but does it work in theory?”, p. 115), the Endangered Species Act endanger rather than protect species (p. 139), buying locally produced food increases greenhouse-gas emissions (p. 167), and the […]

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