Breath of Clarity

Limits of Policy Theory

It is important for managers to understand the limitations of each theory. A major issue with Pluralism is that its focus on the beginning of the policy process reduces the focus on implementation and evaluation. Since regulations can be amended after being enacted into law, the ESA can be weakened which allows for critical populations of subspecies to be put at additional risk (Czech and Krausman 2001). The lack of evaluation leads to the inability to judge policy outcomes, adjust strategies and implement better policies (Czech and Krausman 2001). On the other hand, Policy Sciences focuses too heavily on a single type of analysis, cost-benefit, even though there are many others at the disposal of managers (Czech and Krausman 2001). Further, without considering public opinions, using the Policy Sciences approach may bring difficulty cooperating with the entire breadth of stakeholders including private landowners. At the same time, with Policy Specialism, testing hypotheses can be considered a waste of time and money (Czech and Krausman 2001). Gathering information can also pose significant threats to the survival of species if, for example, damage to a habitat is inflicted in the process. Another issue with the theory is the large amount of experts involved which inhibits communication of knowledge. Additionally, each expert is going to design investigations and deliver results in a way that advances their own field (Czech and Krausman 2001). Similarly, since Public Choice is so concerned with individual gain, negative economic costs to the few are prioritized which has led to species not receiving listing status or being delisted. However, there are too many unknowns to consider these future costs or benefits, which limits public choice theorists to only focus on the individual costs and benefits in the present time (Czech and Krausman 2001). Also, the theory fails to acknowledge values that species play in the ecosystem community. Finally, a limitation of critical theory is it advocates for the equality of all species including humans which can be a challenge to convey to the public. That said, the biggest weakness of the theory is the practicality in terms of implementing it as an agreed-upon framework. At-risk species don’t have the time to wait for humans to unify for the purpose of reducing wildlife oppression (Czech and Krausman 2001). Considering all the limitations of each theory, managers should not follow only one framework while enacting policy initiatives.


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:

Excellent point, Mary. So, if you were responsible for managing the Bosque del Apache Wildlife Refuge in NM, which policy theory(ies) would you consider as “best” for dealing with the issue of whooping cranes in the refuge?

My Reply:

Hi Fenton,

Excellent question about the whooping cranes! To more effectively manage sandhill cranes populations, managers must known which diseases and toxins the species is susceptible to (Wingdingstad 1988). Policy specialism would be useful in terms of its focus on gaining information about policy subjects. At the same time, Policy sciences would need to make sure too much money is not being devoted towards the research if it is not efficient in retrieving answers to the questions at hand. At the same time, critical theory would be considered to ensure the scientists are not posing significant threats to the survival of whooping cranes, or other plants and animals, as information is being gathered.

Also, critical theory would remind the managers of the ecological community’s interconnectedness. Doing so would advise managers to maintain the Rio Grande’s seasonal wetlands that grow nutritious grains and other seeds because the rivers provide food for the migrating sandhill cranes (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 2020). Additionally, policy specialism would recommend grain crops, such as corn and triticale, to be grown to meet nutritional needs of the large flocks of sandhill cranes (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 2020). Critical theory is useful to understand planting on rotation is necessary for soils to recover nutrients (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 2020). Further, both theories would help to make sure selection of field location is considered to discourage the spread of disease and to encourage the birds to spread out (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 2020).


U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 2020. “Sandhill Cranes”. Bosque del Apache.

Wingdingstad, Ronald. 1988. “Nonhunting Mortality in Sandhill Cranes”. The Journal of Wildlife Management. 52(2): 260-263.

Reply by Fenton Kay:

Very good response, Mary. Sandhill cranes use the Rio Grande as a flyway and in the autumn there are big flocks scattered along the river from Albuquerque to the Bosque feeding on field stubble – generally corn, I believe. Raucous and noisy and a symbol of autumn. I’m not sure if any of the Whoopers still move with the sandhills or not – I think I have heard that they didn’t make it in the longer run.

Comment by Kathy Sweezey:

Hi Mary,

I like that you brought up the time and money in testing a hypotheses in policy specialism. This is the theory that I found to be most realistic and beneficial to the ESA currently, but it is also good to recognize that this theory would use more resources than some of the other theories. I believe that using a scientific basis to determine species’ goals and recovery strategies is going to contribute most to the ESA goals of species conservation. However, if the cost and time to determine those strategies is too great, it is possible that the species may face more conservation concerns during the time frame that the research is being conducted. I also found the limitation of time in critical theory as it would take a long time to change public perceptions on species equality and in policy sciences as managers could spend too much time focusing on the analysis of the strategies. What limitations do you think could be overcome by another theory’s approach, and do you think there is a certain combination of theories that may be best for a decision-making framework?

My Reply:

Hi Kathy,

Thanks for the reply! I decided to dive into the aspect of the question concerning how to conquer time as a limitation in the ESA. I found a recommendation from Jamie Rappaport Clark who served as director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) during the Clinton administration. She mentioned species may face even more conservation concerns as an opportunity cost of taking time and resources to improve the ESA. So, it is crucial to make internal administrative changes to policies and regulations as opposed to relying on motion in Congress. Considering, despite numerous attempts over the last 25 years to either strengthen or undermine the law, Congress has never had enough votes to pass one of those bills. There is little reason to believe reauthorization is likely today (Clark 2013). However, Clark (2013) explained the USFWS launched a collection of reforms to make endangered species policy more effective during her time working at the agency. None of those reforms involved Congress. So, the time limitation could be overcome by adopting Clark’s strategy for policy change going forward. However, a drawback of her approach is it would be difficult to incorporate public opinion into decision-making and cooperate with the entire breadth of stakeholders including private landowners. At the same time, perhaps the USFWS would be able to involve the public as long as it created some sort of independent platform to do so.


Clark, Jamie Rappaport. 2013. “The Endangered Species Act at 40: Opportunities for Improvements”. BioScience. 63(12): 924-925.

Comment by Catherine Sautter:

I agree with you, Mary. I don’t think that policy makers could follow one theory solely in order to create effective legislation for the protection of endangered wildlife. I see benefits as well as shortfalls with each theory, and I believe that combinations would serve best especially Policy Science and Policy Specialism. Awesome post