Breath of Clarity

Endangered Species and Wildlife- Economic Impacts

As stated in the text, the ESA can inhibit economic growth for landowners. For example, according to the Pacific Legal Foundation, the ESA restrictions for the spotted owl decimated the Pacific Northwest’s timber industry (2016). Further, ESA interference with financial gain is even more of a con in instances the ESA places restrictions that are beyond its rights over private property. The ESA does not permit regulators to categorically forbid the take of threatened species as they must examine each individual threatened species on a case-by-case basis (Pacific Legal Foundation 2016). However, instead of following the instructions of Congress, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has taken the law into its own hands (Pacific Legal Foundation 2016). The spotted owl is categorized as ‘threatened,’ not ‘endangered,’ so regulators were over-extending the ESA’s restriction beyond its rights when it took massive action to conserve the species (Pacific Legal Foundation 2016). Now, another situation concerning recent regulation subjects landowners in the Pacific Northwest to the possibility of massive fines and even jail for activities that Congress has deemed legal (Pacific Legal Foundation 2016). In the process, the USFWS is harming its relationship with landowners which does not align with the ESA’s goal of placing restrictions on private property for the reason of species conservation.

At the same time, there are also pros to the restrictions placed on private property. Conservation helps ensure functioning ecosystems, preserve our natural heritage for future generations, and maintain long-term economic prosperity (USFWS 2009). A priority of the ESA program is to provide quality customer service to Federal, State, and local governments, Tribes, and private citizens to assist in conserving listed species while meeting their social and economic objectives (USFWS 2009). Additionally, through the Candidate Conservation program, the USFWS, in partnership with landowners, works to reduce the threats to declining species and thus prevent the need for listing (USFWS 2009). By acting early before a species requires ESA protection, the USFWS can maintain management flexibility for landowners and reduce the costs of recovery (USFWS 2009). Additionally, several programs provide incentives for private landowners. For example, the Candidate Conservation Agreements with Assurances Policy provides incentives for non-Federal property owners to conserve candidate species, with the goal of making listing unnecessary. Additionally, Habitat Conservation Planning allows private landowners to develop land supporting listed species provided they undertake conservation measures. By building strong partnerships and initiating early and collaborative conservation efforts, the USFWS can best conserve endangered and threatened species and the ecosystems upon which they depend.


Pacific Legal Foundation. 2016. “Washington cattlemen and PLF challenge ESA overreach.” Pacific Legal Foundation. August 4th, 2016. Video, 4:06.

United States Fish and Wildlife Service. 2009. “Our endangered species program and how it works with landowners.” US Fish and Wildlife Service.July 2009.

Comment by Fenton Kay:

Mary, one of the Pacific Legal Foundations arguments has been severely criticized and shown to be largely invalid. The decline in the forest products industry was ongoing prior to the owl controversy and several companies already had plans to shut down or reduce production. The industry found the owls to be a convenient whipping boy to cloud their actions. What are your thoughts on this issue and how might you go about resolving it?

My Comment:

Great point in saying the decline in the forest products industry was ongoing prior to the owl controversy.

I found a study that investigated the determinants of this decline in the industry, using a county-level panel dataset from Alabama that spans the period between 1996 and 2012 (Uslu and Tetter 2017). Four sub-sectors were analyzed separately, including the logging, wood, paper, and furniture manufacturing sectors (Uslu and Tetter 2017). Results suggest that increases in average variable cost, rather than decreases in demand, were more strongly associated with the recession as measured by the number of operating establishments (Uslu and Tetter 2017). Decomposition analysis indicates that the cost of materials, rather than labor, contributed more to the decline in the number of forest sector establishments in the state (Uslu and Tetter 2017). This could be because increases in labor costs, such as wage increases, are accompanied by increases in labor productivity (Uslu and Tetter 2017). So, in order to go about resolving it, I would present this data to landowners who are angry about the owl controversy for the purpose of showing them I am not aiming to disagree with them about the variable cost being a major issue. From there, I would go on to show them specific factors leading to increased variable costs. The reasons include a lack of global competitiveness, broader economic recessions and industrial consolidations. Additionally, studies on business failure suggest that internal factors are the main cause of business failure (Uslu and Tetter 2017).


Uslu, Hakan and Larry Teeter. 2017. “Shutdown Decision of Firms Based on Variable Costs and Demand”. The American Economist. 62(1): 43-65.

Comment by Gary Mitchler:

You made some great points showing the pros and cons that can be found within the ESA with private property, it is interesting to learn that timber company used the owl species in the PNW as an argument to show government overreach that would lead to loss of business. I think when you mentioned the creation of incentives for landowners to view endangered and threatened species as having similar value that land does will be our best resource in preserving both peoples way of life and threatened species. Thank you for sharing your views and I look forward to seeing more of what you have to share!