Tuesday, October 31, 2017

What's an Endangered Species Worth?

photo by Mary Strickroth
Here’s one answer to that question: As little as $10,000 is spent on saving some endangered species. That’s what you might spend to buy a fourteen year old American made pickup truck. How can this be? 

To understand this dilemma, let’s start at the beginning and see how the Endangered Species Act is supposed to work. The ESA exists to prevent the extinction of species, conserve the ecosystems they depend on, and promote their recovery.

A plant or animal can be listed as endangered or threatened. It’s endangered if close to going extinct in all or part of its native range. It’s threatened if it may become endangered in the foreseeable future. The US Fish and Wildlife Service considers several factors before making a listing. The agency works with individual states to create a recovery plan that specifies the population the species needs to reach to be recovered. 

A recovery plan provides the best information on the cost of saving a species. But recovery plans do not guarantee that money will be spent. In fact, as a recent study by the Center for Biological Diversity shows, the USFWS routinely requests, and Congress routinely grants, far less than the amount needed. Shortchanging is self-defeating: The longer a species struggles without funding, the more expensive the recovery.

The Center dug deep into spending on recovery and found:

1. One in every four protected species received less than $10,000 in recovery funding in 2014, the last year for which data is available. 
2. Incredibly, forty-three species received less than $1,000 each. 
3. The USFWS’s annual budget for recovery of the more than 1,500 species under its care is $82 million per year. That barely pays for basic administrative functions.

So if that’s not enough money, how much is an endangered species worth? The Center estimated that fully implementing recovery plans for all listed species managed by the USFWS would require approximately $2.3 billion each year. That’s about the same amount doled out to private oil and gas companies to subsidize extraction of fossil fuels on our public lands. Shift that money from fossil fuels to endangered species and we would fuel many recoveries. Or, as the Center recommends, increase ESA funding over the next decade to $2.3 billion a year, and spend that money to implement recovery plans.

But you have to wonder about the likelihood of such an increase. The endangered species budget peaked in 2010 and has since fallen by 18 percent. Meanwhile, the number of listed species has swelled by almost 50 percent. And the Trump budget cuts by two-thirds the fund that allows state and federal partners to recover listed species.

Despite being continually underfunded, The Endangered Species Act has saved from extinction more than 99 percent of species under its protection. It has put hundreds of species on a path to recovery. What would that track record be if short-sighted politicians had actually spent what each endangered species is worth? 

Want to help? Visit the Endangered Species Coaliton website to take action: 

Indie author Rick Lamplugh writes to protect wildlife and preserve wildlands. His new book, Deep into Yellowstone: A Year’s Immersion in Grandeur and Controversy, is available signed from Rick, or unsigned on Amazon.  His best seller, In the Temple of Wolves, is available signed, or unsigned on Amazon.

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