The yearly cost of enforcing the Endangered Species Act runs into the billions of dollars, not millions as reported to Congress by government agencies, says an audit released yesterday by property rights groups.
Despite the estimated $3 billion per year spent, the government has little to show for its recovery efforts, says the Property and Environment Research Center, which conducted the study for the Pacific Legal Foundation.
The audit reviewed 19 federal agencies that spend “significant” amounts to comply with the act and found that salaries, operations, maintenance and services associated with enforcing the ESA are not reported to Congress.
For example, the report says the Interior Department’s Office of Surface Mining reported no “reasonably identifiable” expenditures despite having what the researchers consider millions in ESA-related costs. The report gives no specific examples of these costs.
Also missing from government estimates, says the report, is money spent on protecting species in foreign countries — 517 foreign endangered species and 41 foreign threatened species from African elephants to Corsican swallowtail butterflies. In its budget for next year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is requesting $8.6 million for international wildlife trade and conservation, but does not specify how much would be spent enforcing international laws to protect endangered species.
“The Endangered Species Act (ESA) may be a waste of taxpayer dollars since only a few species benefit from the government’s expenditures. Fifty percent of reported expenditures are for seven species, just 0.6 percent of the ESA list,” the report says.
As of February, 1,260 species were officially threatened or endangered, but only a dozen species have been “recovered” and removed from the list since it was created 30 years ago as part of the government act.
The last report filed by the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) in December estimates $610 million was spent in 2000, but the study says the actual cost is closer to four times that amount. The FWS administers the Endangered Species Act and maintains the list.
“From 1989 to 2000, the FWS estimates that a little over $3.5 billion of taxpayer dollars was spent on ESA-related activities. We recognize today that the actual cost of protecting species, including private costs as well as government expenditures, may easily reach or exceed that figure per year,” the report says.
Brian Kennedy, spokesman for the House Resources Committee, says the report shows “either a success rate of 0.01 percent, or a failure rate of 99.9 percent” in helping endangered species recover enough to be removed from the list.
The audit reviewed 19 federal agencies that spend “significant” amounts to comply with the act and found that salaries, operations, maintenance and services “clearly” associated with enforcing the ESA are not reported to Congress.
Congress also doesn’t get a report on money spent to protect species in foreign countries — 517 foreign endangered species and 41 foreign threatened species from African elephants to Corsican swallowtail butterflies. In its budget for next year the FWS is requesting $8.6 million for international wildlife trade and conservation, but does not specify how much would be spent enforcing international laws to protect endangered species.
“The government has no idea what the ESA is truly costing, but it does give us an idea of the enormous human costs of ESA regulation — and it’s often devastating,” said Emma T. Suarez, a lawyer for the Pacific Legal Foundation, a Sacramento, Calif.-based organization that defends property owners against endangered species lawsuits.
“People have lost their jobs, businesses, homes, farms and even their lives to protect plants, insects and fish,” she said.
The economic impact of the Endangered Species Act is not reported to Congress. The report says $300 million a year in federal efforts and regulations to protect the habitat of the California gnatcatcher bird also caused a one-year delay on construction of a high school, costing an additional $1 million locally. Farmers in the Klamath Basin of Oregon lost nearly $54 million in crops in 2001 when irrigation water was shut off to protect the shortnose sucker and coho salmon.
Brent Blackwelder, president of Friends of the Earth, said the report and its authors want to discredit and gut the environmental act, and display “an incredible ecological ignorance.”
“They try to contrast species concerns with human needs, and we see those as totally compatible. We as humans need a healthy environment,” Mr. Blackwelder said.
A healthy population of Northwest salmon would bring in annual revenue of $500 million a year and provide 2,500 jobs, he said.
“The costs of destroying endangered species are huge when you look at the benefits to society as a whole,” Mr. Blackwelder said.
Rep. Richard W. Pombo, California Republican and House Resources Committee chairman, called the report “astounding” and proof that the law “is broken.”
“American taxpayers are spending billion after billion to fund programs that don’t work,” Mr. Pombo said. “That’s like buying a new set of tires every year for a car that doesn’t run. But until Congress reforms the law, this is essentially what will continue to happen.”