The Endangered Species Act: to Strengthen or Not to Strengthen

The Endangered Species Act (ESA) is a subject of ongoing debate among both ecologists and economists. The supporters of this law claim that it is extremely beneficial for preserving animals which are on the verge of extinction.

Furthermore, in their opinion, this act should be strengthened otherwise America may run a risk of losing an inseparable part of the environment, wildlife. In turn, the opponents advocate voluntary approach to the protection of imperiled species. According to them, the state cannot defend ecosystem, unless these policies are actively and willingly supported by average citizens.

They also point out that despite its noble intentions, the ESA may produce adverse effects and paradoxically, it threatens the existence of many living organisms (Shaw, 1995). Therefore, there is growing necessity to discuss these opposing views and probably propose a compromise to reconcile them. Moreover, we need to analyze the benefits and limitations of the ESA as this will throw light on the source of controversy.

On the whole, it is possible to argue that the Endangered Species Act is essential for sustained existence of many biological groups, but it overlooks certain aspects, in particular financial side environment protection and most importantly, interactions among animals in nature. It should be promoted in the future; however some of its points may be changed or modified.

Environmental problem manifested itself at the beginning of the twentieth century, in the age of industrialization and urbanization. It became evident that a great number of beasts, birds, fish or insects could practically disappear if urgent measures had not been taken.

The ESA had several precursors such as Lacey, Bold Eagle Protection Acts and others. Yet, all of them were later deemed as inadequate. The ESA is the most comprehensive among environmental laws. This is one of its major advantages because it requires close collaboration of various agencies as in this case separate attempts are of seldom of any avail (Ruhl, 2004).

The work, aimed at preserving biological species frequently involves people, specializing in different areas of knowledge and the decree of the state helps to coordinate their efforts. Undoubtedly, governmental and public organizations are not entirely unanimous now but the process of integration is only at the initial stage.

Secondly, the bill lays basis for the prevention of illegal practices like poaching or smuggling. In fact, fines and penalties can amount 50 thousand dollars or result in jail imprisonment (US, 1973).

This is a very powerful stimulus for some people to refrain from senseless killing or cruelty towards animals. This is one of the reasons why this law should be strengthened. Provided that it is made more lenient or tolerant to abuse, America can be deprived of many mammals, invertebrates, mollusks that will fall victim to poachers.

Nevertheless, the main advantage of the ESA is that it this act takes a broader look at the ecosystem. It is aimed at saving not only living organisms but their natural habitat as well (US, 1973). The scientists argue that the extinction or decline in number is often caused by the destruction of area in which the particular species lives (Cunningham & Cunningham, 2008).

This includes appropriate climate conditions, corresponding flora and fauna. This law is supposed to provide necessary conditions for recovery and safeguarding the animals that are in jeopardy. Unlike previous environmental laws, which were oriented on quick results, this one sets to achieve long-term objectives.

We should not only alleviate situation for some period of time. Maintenance of ecosystem demands continuous monitoring from the citizens and government. To some degree, the Endangered Species Act was the foundation for this policy.

In addition to that, the authors of the ESA succeeded in a very important task, they developed eligibility criteria, according to which the officials can measure the degree of peril and map out strategies of intervention. Nonetheless, we can say that bureaucratic procedures pose obstacles to environmental organizations because sometimes it is rather difficult to present sufficient evidence proving the danger of decline or extinction.

Overall, the efforts of the government were not fruitless: many beasts or birds, whose population had been previously decreasing, not only survived but also increased their number. For example we can mention Bald Eagle, Whooping Crane or Grizzly Bear (Shaw, 1995).

This fact eloquently demonstrates that in its core the ESA has many rational points. But as any law, it has flaws, which spark off a lot of protests. At this stage, we should analyze the arguments of the opponents, those people who insist that this act should not be strengthened. They are firmly convinced that some of its aspects are erroneous and that this bill makes difficulties for both people and wild nature rather than helps them.

Their overarching thesis is that the ESA clearly neglects the financial side of the question. First, governmental organizations are strongly dependent on the participation of private landowners, whose territory may be used as a natural habitat for animals.

Of course, in the United States there are a great number of forest reserves, national parks, woodlands under control of the state but they are insufficient. Consequently, environmental agencies and public organizations rely on the assistance of local farmers or other owners of the territories suitable for the role of habitat (Rohlf, 2004).

Some land tenants are reluctant to admit that the species living on their territory is declining because the acceptance of this fact will inevitable impose rigid restrictions on their business activities. They will have to incur extra expenses and most importantly, they are seldom compensated for their losses (Rohlf, 2004). Some of them may be willing to help federal agencies but they cannot afford it.

To crown it all, they do not report that the species, dwelling in their neighborhood, are at peril. Subsequently, this only aggravates the state of affairs. These data exemplifies the case when noble pursuits lead to unintended consequences and complications.

Therefore, we can speak about voluntary approach of the citizens. The word “voluntary” implies that the state should encourage peoples cooperation by award or at least indemnity for their services. Scholars believe that without such encouragement the Endangered Species Act will entail endless court trials and delays (Shaw, 1995; Rohlf 2004).

From legal standpoint, their conflict may be interpreted as intrusion into privacy. Proprietors will resent this policy as they are more interested in their own well-being. It does not mean that farmers are not concerned with nature and its inhabitants but they need proper motivation.

At the present moment the role of motivator is played by the fear of fines and penalties but such approach is seldom productive as people can always find ingenious ways of breaking or evading laws. The ESA is not an exception from this rule.

The situation, which has recently emerged leaves much to be desired because landowners whose territory is populated by imperiled animals do not take any measures to bring them from the brink of extinction instead they just wait until this process is complete (Ruhl, 2004). Their behavior can be explained by their fear of losing the source of revenue.

Economic considerations are not the only point of discord: ecologists also state that the ESA frequently jeopardizes the existence of some forms of wildlife.

The thing is that very often the actions of federal agencies are well-balanced. For instance, sometimes they try to find shelter for predators, birds of prey (eagles, falcons, hawks, vultures), and expose other breeds or even people to danger (Shaw, 1995).

Ecologists place emphasis on such issue as compatibility of species because some of them cannot co-exist with one another (Easton, 2006). Unfortunately, this factor is not taken into account by governmental organizations. These facts show us that sometimes the authorities lack professionalism and, are not very knowledgeable in what they are doing.

The arguments, advanced by both sides are very convincing: on the one hand; the Endangered Species Act offers legal basis for securing and sustaining wildlife in the United States, but at the same time, it strips landowners of their right to farm, log, hunt etc. The only possible outcome is the conflict of interests and it is necessary to reconcile them because now the ESA does not receive the support of average American citizens, who may assist the government on condition that this assistance is recompensed.

Federal agencies can offer payment for the use of lands or they can rent them (Shaw; 1995). This can hypothetically relax tension between the state and proprietors. Financial reward will be a very strong incentive for many of them to cooperate with environmental agencies.

Actually, this may even create completion in this field. The second issue that needs to be addressed is the process of finding natural habitat for endangered species. Those, who intend to carry out this task, must be well aware of the findings in zoology, ornithology and related disciplines. Currently, the settlement is done haphazardly, as soon as vacant territory is found.

But this is entirely impermissible because it violates the basic law of nature, namely the interconnectedness of living creatures. One should not think only on one particular group, because any areal is populated by many living organisms that interact with each other.

Prior to creating reserve and placing a new species, one has to weight up the effects of this decision because a new-comer especially if it is a predator can destroy other forms of life which will disrupt the functioning of ecosystem. Still, despite these limitations, the ESA may be a good solution for environmental problems of the country.

The activities of human beings have always been based on exploitation of natural resources which are exhaustible. This fact is now self-evident but for a very long time the possibility of the depletion was disregarded. Modern society attempts to adopt strategies ensuring that environment does not turn into a desert. The Endangered Species Act is one of such methods or tools.

It serves to protect and preserve wildlife. The key objective is to avert the tragedy of complete extinction or significant decrease in the population. This law is beneficial to that extent that it furnishes legal basis for protection and offers guidelines for public organizations.

But the ESA has some aspects that should be clarified: 1) the relationships with landowners especially when the government needs their assistance. 2) The second aspect of this debate is the settlement of species in reserves as occasionally it is done randomly.

The Endangered Species Act has not been reviewed or amended for nearly twenty years. It should be made more applicable to the needs of citizens but its major premises like prohibition of unlawful practices and constant monitoring must not be altered. This decree of the state is only on the first steps that should be taken in an effort to stabilize the ecological situation in the country.


Cunningham. W. P. Cunningham. M. A (2008). Principles of Environmental Science Inquiry and Applications. McGraw-Hill.

Easton. T. A. (2006) Taking sides: clashing views on environmental issues. McGraw Hill Contemporary Learning Series.

Shaw, J. S. (1995). Endangered Species Act: Making innocent species the enemyCenter for FreeMarket Environmentalism.

Rohlf. D (2004). Section 4 of the Endangered Species Act: Top Ten Issues for the Next Thirty Years. Environmental Law (34), 2 p 483.

Ruhl. J.B (2004). The Battle over Endangered Species Act Methodology. Environmental Law, (34), 2, p 555.

The United States (1973). The Endangered Species Act of 1973.

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