President Obama has restored the teeth of the Endangered Species Act with a remarkable claim:

Reversing another Bush administration rule change, President Barack Obama said Tuesday that he will require federal agencies to consult with government wildlife experts when new government projects such as highways or dams might harm endangered or threatened species. ...

"For more than three decades, the Endangered Species Act has successfully protected our nation's most threatened wildlife, and we should be looking for ways to improve it, not weaken it."

As Jonathan Adler points out though, the Endangered Species Act has saved precisely zero species over those decades -- at great expense!

Well over 1,800 species are listed as threatened and endangered under the ESA. As of this morning, when I checked on the FWS website, a total of 46 species have been "delisted" — that is have been removed from the list of threatened and endangered species. Of these, 28 were delisted because of an initial data error in the listing (FWS miscounted or misidentified a species) or due to extinction. (17 and 9 respectively.) Of the remaining species, many of these species' recovery have absolutely nothing to do with the Endangered Species Act. Several bird species, for example, were almost certainly helped by the de facto DDT ban, but this was done in 1972, a year before the ESA was enacted. Several other species, such as some species of Australian kangaroos and birds from Palau, are indeed doing better, but the ESA had no role with these species either. In the few instances in which the ESA might have helped, such as with the Aleutian Canada goose, the key actions had nothing to do with the Act's primary regulatory components. (The goose, for instance, was largely helped by predator control, not controls on private land.) In sum, it is not clear that there is a single species — not one of the 1,000-plus — that has been recovered due to the primary regulatory provisions of the Act. If this is President Obama's idea of "success," I don't want to know what constitutes a failure.

As I have argued with regards to fish, rhinos, and elephants, the best way to protect endangered species is through the free market: by turning them into valuable property. Their owners will then have a financial incentive to maintain the species, and the government won't have to be any further involved.

The only problem with this approach: it doesn't empower government bureaucrats to meddle in private matters, "fix" everything, and run our lives.

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