Case Studies

Impact of the Endangered Species Act –
Examples and Case Studies

While the goal of the Endangered Species Act is to protect organisms by limiting or curtailing human use of their habitat (i.e., land), such actions can harm the ability of owners to use their properties productively. There are numerous examples in which species listings have had significant economic impacts.

See examples in the map below of species that are affecting economic development. Detailed case studies on the impact of endangered species regulations are also provided under the map.

Species Impacts

Source: Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts

Case Study:
Dunes Sagebrush Lizard

Endangered Economy: A Case Study of the Dunes Sagebrush Lizard and the West Texas Oil and Gas Industry

The dunes sagebrush lizard (DSL) is native to shinnery oak dunes in the Permian Basin in West Texas and Southeastern New Mexico. What makes this critical to the economy of the state is that the DSL habitat lies in the middle of one of the nation’s most productive oil and gas formations – Texas’ Permian Basin.

In order to provide a safety net and ensure economic activity could continue in the Permian Basin where the DSL was found, the Texas Comptroller facilitated the development of the Texas Conservation Plan (TCP) for the DSL and also holds the federal permit for this plan. The TCP was developed by a group of stakeholders including private landowners, royalty owners, the oil and gas and agriculture industries, academia, and state and federal agency representatives. The TCP combined a pre- and post-listing conservation plan into one. The pre-listing plan provided opportunities for individuals to voluntarily enroll in the TCP and conduct certain conservation practices that would benefit the DSL and potentially keep it from being listed as endangered. Having a post-listing plan already in place before a listing decision was made ensured that if the DSL was listed, industry would be able to continue to operate by enrolling in the TCP.

Fortunately, in June 2012 FWS announced its decision not to list the DSL as endangered and the TCP played an important part in that decision. The success of the TCP can be attributed to the collaboration of all the stakeholders involved, the desire to provide a safety net for industry and innovative thinking. A commitment to gather necessary scientific data also attributed to the successful outcome. The TCP can serve as a model to respond to future species proposed listings not only in Texas, but across the United States.
Learn more about the DSL and the Texas Conservation Plan.

Texas A&M Real Estate Center Reports on Impacts

A number of studies conducted by Dr. Charles Gilliland and his colleagues at Texas A&M University’s Real Estate Center have identified instances in which endangered species regulation has interfered with productive uses as well as the owner’s ability to sell the affected property.*

*Please note these reports were completed in 1994 and 1995 and do not reflect current property values.

Case History:
The Northern Spotted Owl

The listing of the northern spotted owl as threatened on June 26, 1990, was one of the most controversial issues in the history of the Endangered Species Act.

The setting was the federal old-growth forests of northern California, Oregon, Washington and British Columbia. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife (FWS) believed that the main threat to the spotted owl was the loss of habitat caused by logging operations.

Some restaurants in the area advertised “spotted owl soup” to show their support for the logging industry, while environmental activists drove metal spikes into trees to damage chainsaws, putting loggers at risk of injury.

Since the listing of this species, logging in the region’s national forests has dropped from 4 billion board feet per year to about half a billion board feet per year; as many as 200 mills have closed.1

According to the U.S. Department of Commerce Bureau of Economic Analysis, the number of forestry and logging jobs in Oregon and Washington fell by 41 percent from 1990 to 2009 (from 27,656 to 16,298 jobs), compared with 14.6 percent nationwide (156,600 to 133,800 jobs).2 In other words, 50 percent of the nation’s logging and forestry jobs lost from 1990 to 2009 were lost in Oregon and Washington.

The sacrifices made by the logging industry, however, did not stop the decline in the northern spotted owl population. Twenty years after the owl was listed as threatened, the owl population continues to fall by an average of about 3 percent annually.3 FWS has discovered that “the barred owl constitutes a significantly greater threat to spotted owl recovery than was envisioned when the spotted owl was listed in 1990.”

The Revised Recovery Plan for the Northern Spotted Owl, adopted on July 1, 2011, includes Recovery Action 22: “If barred owl removal is determined to be effective, work with the State of California to explore options for managing barred owls using lethal means.”4

On Sept. 10, 2013, FWS announced the experimental removal of barred owls from up to four test areas in the Pacific Northwest. According FWS, the agency is taking this action because it has “…identified habitat loss and competition from recently arrived barred owls as the most pressing threats to the northern spotted owl.” Additional information is available on FWS’ Northern Spotted Owl Recovery Information - Barred Owl Threat website.

Case History:
Whooping Cranes

In 1941, only a single flock of 16 whooping cranes was known to exist. Today, the flock winters in Texas at the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in the San Antonio Bay and summers at the Wood Buffalo National Park in the Northwest Territories, Canada. It has recovered considerably since 1941, with a record 283 whooping cranes reported in Texas during winter 2011. The whooping crane was added to the endangered species list on June 2, 1970.5

In March 2010, a group called The Aransas Project (TAP) filed a lawsuit against employees of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality for allegedly violating the Endangered Species Act. TAP claimed that 23 whooping cranes died during the 2008-2009 winter because the defendants had failed to adequately manage the flow of fresh water into the San Antonio Bay, primarily from the Guadalupe and San Antonio rivers. The court case is ongoing, but experts dispute how many whooping cranes died, as well as the cause of death.

One of the remedies proposed by TAP is federal intervention in the way Texas currently allocates its water resources. Dr. David Sunding, co-director of the Berkeley Water Center, submitted a report on behalf of the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority (GBRA) on the possible economic impacts of the proposed federal intervention.6 Sunding wrote that the water-flow requirements proposed by TAP would have negative economic impacts in the Guadalupe and San Antonio River basin.

According to Sunding, water use restrictions would result in unreliable water supplies, causing more frequent water shortages and requiring the unnecessary construction of expensive water supply projects. Sunding estimated that these water shortages and construction costs could cost Texas $6.7 billion between 2010 and 2060. The most significant impact in the years 2010 through 2040 would be to electricity generating plants, which could no longer rely on adequate cooling water supplies.

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