Breath of Clarity

Environmental Policy Theory

Five theories of public policy related to the Endangered Species Act (ESA) are Pluralism, Policy Sciences, Policy Specialism, Public Choice Theory, and Critical Theory (Czech and Krausman 2001). They differ in opinion about how to improve the ESA (Czech and Krausman 2001). Pluralism’s focus is on the earlier parts of the political process, such as agenda setting and policy adoption, instead of implementation and analysis of the policy (Czech and Krausman 2001). Further, the theory aims to decentralize political power. Pluralism focuses on conveying the roots of power formation to the public and enhancing transparency of government behavior (Czech and Krausman 2001). From there, pluralism strives for public preferences to provide the building blocks of high-level negotiation (Czech and Krausman 2001). Additionally, Policy Sciences provides scientific data about the policy process by studying valuation. Pluralism differs from Policy Sciences because the former puts attention towards the agenda-setting stage while the latter focuses on implementation as a major shortcoming of the ESA (Czech and Krausman 2001). However, while Policy Sciences uses scientific principles, it differs from Policy Specialism as the latter uses the actual scientific method Czech and Krausman 2001). Further, while Policy Sciences focuses on the policy process, Policy Specialism focuses on policy subjects (Czech and Krausman 2001). On the other hand, Public Choice theory is results-oriented and prioritizes the economic value of ESA decisions (Czech and Krausman 2001). Policy Specialism differs from Public Choice because the former has a high standard for accuracy of information while the latter distorts information (Czech and Krausman 2001). Public Choice does so for the purpose of showing political management is ineffective and costly (Czech and Krausman 2001). The theory has traditional ideals as it discourages innovation and advocates for individual property rights as opposed to individual responsibility towards the greater ecosystem (Czech and Krausman 2001). Similarly, Critical Theory focuses on the drawbacks of political management. However, it is concerned with how domination harms ecological community (Czech and Krausman 2001). Specifically, the theorists support non-hierachical forms of interaction and advocate for rare species who are being oppressed (Czech and Krausman 2001). Taking pieces of each of these frameworks would be optimal to analysis of the ESA.

However, the one that adds the most value in terms of ESA analysis is Policy Sciences. The theory is focused on evaluating results to reformulate goals and strengthen implementation. That way, problems of the ESA would be more thoroughly acknowledged, goals would be more specific to address the issues, and processes would be refined to leverage the expertise of wildlife biologists. Ultimately, studying valuation would improve allocation of resources and is therefore indispensable to put the proper infrastructure in place for Policy Specialism to make headway. From there, the two can function in tandem to nourish the ecological community.


Czech, Brian and Paul R. Krausman. 2001. The Endangered Species Act: History, Conservation, Biology, and Public Policy. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Comment by Fenton Kay:

Great statements, Mary. Do you think that the ESA, as currently configured to operate, is more of a policy sciences law? What parts of the operation of the ESA do you think lean most heavily toward policy science?

My Comment:

Hi Fenton,

I think the ESA is ideally designed to operate as a policy specialism law. Its operation is supposed to be focused on gathering data about rare species as well as putting preservation and conservation mechanisms in place to protect critical habitats and their inhabitants. However, the government’s inability to fully empower the agencies to implement the law has been the most notable failure of the ESA (Schwartz 2008). Listing of species has not matched need, recovery expenditures do not match need or agency-set priorities, and critical habitat determinations have lagged (Schwartz 2008). So, in my opinion policy sciences adds the most value to the analysis of the ESA because the shortcomings are due to lack of data and poor implementation that has come as a result of a bad policy process. The goals are there but the implementation is not. As we talked about before, the ESA needs a fundamental restructuring to fulfill its purpose as a policy specialism law.


Schwartz, Mark. 2008. “The Performance of the Endangered Species Act”. Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics. 39: 279-299.

Comment by Fenton Kay:

Very good and solid response, Mary. Thank you.

Comment by Casey Kahler:

Hi Mary,

I really enjoyed reading through your post this week and I thought you did an excellent job identifying the five theories. Although, I didn’t choose policy sciences for my response I felt as if your support is very valid in regards to why it adds the most value. As you mentioned this theory is beneficial in regards of restructuring and reforming goals and implementation strategies. There has been much discussion especially during President’s Trump Administration that changes need to be made to the ESA. Like many things that have evolved over time there is a constant need for updating and restructuring ideas that may not have been a concern when the ESA was first implemented. With any change though comes controversy as we saw during the Trump administration and its role on the ESA. This brings me back to your discussion post though where you mention how this theory pairs well with policy specialism. By having these two theories work together you’re not only allowing for changes to be made but also bringing in experts in the field too. Do you think though that even with all of the theories that make up the ESA they’re focused more on their own values and not the overall goal? How do we work to incorporate all viewpoints and how they relate to the greater good of the ESA?

My Reply:

Hi Casey,

Thanks for your comment and questions! The ESA leaders are more focused on their own values, often determined by pressure from other stakeholders, rather than the overall goal. So, policy sciences must address the alignment between the ESA’s overall goal and implementation. Specifically, policy sciences needs to aim to increase accountability of leaders so they are making administrative decisions based upon the well-being of policy subjects. The first step to incorporating all viewpoints into the conversation about enhancing the ESA is to clearly outline key stakeholder interests and understand important power dynamics. Still, a drawback of policy specialism is the bias of each scientist in terms of desiring to advance its own field. So, incorporating all viewpoints must also involve acknowledging the contrast in values amongst the scientific community. From there, discrepancy between the overall goal and implementation can be brought to light. Then, ultimately, there will need to be a standard protocol for making decisions with all stakeholder interests and biological data considered. Creating a standard with the least amount of ambiguity possible is crucial. As long as every element of the foundation for the standard procedure is determined with the greater good of the ESA in mind, fairness between all the viewpoints should be reached and resources are going to be appropriately allocated.

Casey’s Reply:

Hi Mary,

Thank you for taking the time to reply! You mentioned the need for a standard protocol for making decisions with both stakeholder and biologicals in mind. I think this idea of a standard is a pivotal and although policy sciences touches on this concept I do feel as if it should be more streamlined in the overall process of the ESA too!