There is Nothing Modern about the “Modernized Endangered Species Act.”

Federal lawmakers are set to consider a “Modernized Endangered Species Act” that will ultimately serve to transfer the authority of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) to local governments and private interests. Essentially, if a local jurisdiction or private company views a protection that falls under the ESA as a hindrance to development, they would be significantly empowered to sidestep science and overturn the protection at the local level. Far from a modernization, the set of changes being proposed to this longstanding piece of legislation that serves as both our best defense against extinction as well as critical protection of valuable biodiversity would set us back decades – literally. The ESA has been around for more than 40 years, and scientists estimate that if it were not for the ESA, Americans would have lost at least 227 species of plants and animals since the act was passed in 1973.[i]

Experts worldwide agree that we are in the midst of a mass extinction of plant and animal species, driven largely by human activity. Over 1,300 species are listed as endangered or threatened in the United States alone. Now more than ever, we should be working to strengthen the ESA, the world’s gold standard for protecting vulnerable species, rather than diminishing it. Lawmakers behind the “modernization” proposal claim that the ESA “is not working,”[ii]but we know it is. The ESA has successfully saved more than 99% of species listed, and statistical analysis shows that listing significantly improves a species’ likelihood of recovery.[iii]The list of species the Act has saved includes the bald eagle, the manatee, the humpback whale, the California condor, the Florida manatee, and the black-footed ferret, to name just a few. As a leader in science-based economics, Earth Economics highlights the value of critical habitat, biodiversity, and healthy ecosystems in all of our work. And numerous studies have demonstrated that Americans place economic value on species preservation that far exceeds the cost of the ESA program. A few are highlighted below, including one that Earth Economics is currently working on. 



When bald eagles were listed as an endangered species, there were fewer than 1,000 living in the U.S. Through habitat protection and pesticide regulation, their numbers increased exponentially, and these birds were eventually delisted in the early 2000s. Bald eagles are highly valued by US households. Multiple studies have found that, on average, American households are willing to pay between $27[iv]and $58[v]per year (adjusted for inflation to 2018 dollars) to preserve bald eagles from extinction. Extended across all households, the nation is willing to spend more than $1.5 billion dollars a year to preserve bald eagles from extinction. In 1993, the year this survey was conducted, state and federal governments spent just $200 million on the entire endangered species program, protecting not just the bald eagle, but hundreds of other endangered species. [vi]




Gray wolves were extinct in the wild in the continental United States following large scale extermination efforts in the 1930s.[vii]Gray wolves were reintroduced in the wild under protection of the Endangered Species Act in the 1970s. Wolf populations were introduced in the Rocky Mountains and the Great Lakes region.[viii]Although wolf reintroduction has been politically contentious, a significant majority of Americans support reintroduction of the species in the U.S.[ix]A survey of residents in Minnesota found that local value of gray wolf reintroduction far exceeded program costs to maintain the species. Extrapolated statewide, Minnesota residents were willing to pay more than $27 million for the management and protection of gray wolves in the area.[x]Total costs of the management program – including costs to compensate ranchers for livestock losses - were less than $800,000 annually.[xi]


Southern Resident Killer Whales


Southern esident killer whales (SRKWs) were listed as an endangered species in 2005. SRKW populations have not recovered since their ESA listing, and populations continue to decline. This continued loss is ascribed to the drastic decline of their main food source - chinook salmon,[xii]which are currently at record lows in the wild.[xiii]The fragile SRKW population also suffers from disturbance by commercial and recreational vessels and chemical pollutants.[xiv]Earth Economics is currently partnering with the SeaDoc Society to estimate the economic value of this iconic species in Puget Sound. In addition, Governor Inslee of Washington State has convened a Southern Resident Killer Whale Recovery Task Force in response to the dire situation of this beloved species, and citizens and organizations around Western Washington are working together to try to save them, proving yet again that Americans place a high value on the protection of native wildlife. 


The ESA Protects Habitat, Biodiversity, and American Values.

Recreationists, hunters, anglers, wildlife lovers young and old, and those who may never even set foot in the wild all place enormous value on the diversity of wild animals across the United States. Beyond their economic values, iconic animals like those described above are a core part of our identity and culture as Americans. They tie us to the land we love and provide an irreplaceable sense of place, history, and national pride. The ability to pass these things on to future generations of Americans is truly priceless, and the ESA is our best bet for doing just that. The ESA isn’t just good science, it’s good economics, proving time and again to be worth far more than we pay for it.

© Earth Economics 2018
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  • [i]“The Endangered Species Act: A Wild Success” (n.d.) Center for Biological Diversity. Retrieved from:
  • [ii]Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY), quoted March 11, 2017 in the Washington Post:
  • [iii]Martin F. J. Taylor, Kieran F. Suckling, Jeffrey J. Rachlinski; The Effectiveness of the Endangered Species Act: A Quantitative Analysis, BioScience, Volume 55, Issue 4, 1 April 2005, Pages 360–367,[0360:TEOTES]2.0.CO;2
  • [iv]Nunes, P. A., & van den Bergh, J. C. (2001). Economic valuation of biodiversity: sense or nonsense?. Ecological economics, 39(2), 203-222
  • [v]Loomis, J., White, D. (1996) Benefits of rare and endangered species: summary and meta-analysis. Ecological Economics 18: 197-206
  • [vi]“Three-Year Summary of Federal and State Endangered and Threatened Species Expenditures” (2000) US Fish and Wildlife Services
  • [vii]“Gray Wolf Biologue” (n.d) US Fish and Wildlife Services. Retrieved from:
  • [viii]Ibid
  • [ix]Williams, C. K., Ericsson, G., & Heberlein, T. A. (2002). A quantitative summary of attitudes toward wolves and their reintroduction (1972-2000). Wildlife Society Bulletin, 575-584.
  • [x]Chambers, C. M., & Whitehead, J. C. (2003). A contingent valuation estimate of the benefits of wolves in Minnesota. Environmental and Resource Economics, 26(2), 249-267.
  • [xi]Ibid
  • [xii]“Review of the Effectiveness of Recovery Measures for Southern Resident Killer Whales” (n.d) Fisheries and Oceans Canada. Retrieved from:
  • [xiii]“Fisheries and Aquaculture Department Statistics." (n.d) Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
  • [xiv]“Review of the Effectiveness of Recovery Measures for Southern Resident Killer Whales” (n.d) Fisheries and Oceans Canada. Retrieved from: