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Economic Value of Protecting Endangered Species

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The Endangered Species Act was passed in 1973 because Americans believed that protecting our wildlife was an obligation to future generations, our nation’s environmental health, our fellow creatures, and the heart of the American way of life. It included wildlife ranges and habitats irrespective of political boundaries because these habitats, which are vital to species survival, cross arbitrary lines.

Today, the ESA remains the most important law in the United States for conserving biodiversity and arresting the extinction of species.

Is Endangered Species Act is endangered?

In the past two weeks, more than two dozen pieces of legislation, policy initiatives, and riders designed to weaken the ESA have been either introduced or voted on in Congress or proposed by the Department of the Interior.

Criticism of the law stems mostly from oil and gas companies and agricultural interests who argue that the ESA’s provisions excessively limit economic interests and development.

So what are economic benefits of protecting endangered species?

To determine the value of saving species economists often look at benefits described as “ecosystem services.” Ecosystem services include all the functions performed by nature that provide benefits to humans – and their value to the U.S. economy is enormous.

A 2011 study prepared for the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, a government-affiliated conservation group, tabulated the total value of ecosystem services at about $1.6 trillion annually in the U.S.

Basic services include climate regulation, waste treatment, water supply, carbon sequestration, nutrient cycling, habitat provision and many others that all help modulate and regulate climate, weather and various resources needed for human comfort, security and well-being. Saltwater wetlands, freshwater wetlands, temperate and tropical forests, grasslands, lakes, etc. all provide different levels of a myriad of environmental services.

“Think of bees that pollinate more than 90 commercial crops in the U.S. like fruits, nuts and vegetables or birds that eat mosquitoes that would otherwise spread disease to humans.” via Time Magazine

The study also looked at:

  1. The willingness-to-pay by residents and visitors to conserve various species,
  2. The revenue accrued by visits to natural areas,
  3. Property values that are impacted by proximity to protected and natural areas.

Beyond the economic value of species preservation, there’s the value of being good stewards of our planet.

At a time when science has concluded that we have entered an unprecedented period of climate change and human-caused Sixth Mass extinction, we should be finding ways to help imperiled species heal and flourish, not impose rules to effectively undermine the cornerstone of our nation’s conservation law.