Economic Benefits of Endangered Species

When you read about the Endangered Species Act, it’s usually within two contexts — a specific species that’s recovering, or the economic costs of adhering to the law.  So I was a bit surprised to see the headline “The Endangered Species Act Is Criticized for Its Costs. But It Generates More than $1 Trillion a Year” by Justin Worland.  Really?

The disconnect between this headline and what you normally read seems to be that the law’s negatives are easy to identify, and they tend to affect specific industries.   In congressional hearings held last year, Republican Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming said “States, counties, wildlife managers, home builders, construction companies, farmers, ranchers, and other stakeholders are all making it clear that the Endangered Species Act is not working today.”

But the law’s supporters cite something called “ecosystem services”  —  the benefits of protecting entire ecosystems, which is necessary to preserve a species.  These include obvious benefits, like tourism, but there are other considerations, too.  Clean drinking water, pollinating insects, and mosquito-eating birds might not readily come to mind, but they’re all part of the equation.

A 2011 study prepared for the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation stated “Outdoor recreation, natural resources conservation and historic preservation in the United States all have measurable economic impacts.”  This study calculated the total value of ecosystem services in the U.S. at about $1.6 trillion annually.  This included more than $32 billion in National Wildlife Refuges protected under the Endangered Species Act.

This article showed up in my newsfeed because there is yet another proposal in Washington, D.C.  to tinker with how the law is implemented.  But like everything else in our modern world, it’s more complicated than you might think.

The article “The Endangered Species Act Is Criticized for Its Costs. But It Generates More than $1 Trillion a Year” can be accessed at http://time.com/5347260/endangered-species-act-reform/? .

 

 

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