Recommendations for More Effective Conservation

Primary Investigators


Jordan K. Lofthouse, MSE, Strata Policy PhD Fellow
Camille Harmer, BS, Strata Policy Researcher

Executive Summary


The federal government protects species on the brink of extinction through the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The law’s goal is to allow these species to recover so that federal protection is no longer needed, but few species have actually recovered. Congress and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) could change the implementation of the law in several ways to improve its effectiveness and efficiency. Our recommendations provide policymakers with ways to reduce the economic cost or improve the efficiency of species recovery. In this Strata policy brief, we examine two main ways to change the ESA.

First, the ESA makes endangered species a liability for people on both private and public lands. Congress and the FWS could better align incentives to encourage individuals to help species recover. We have identified four ways to improve the ESA by better aligning incentives:

  1. Expand opportunities for voluntary approaches to conservation
  2. Enhance the role of state governments in recovering species
  3. Promote incentive-based approaches to conservation on private land
  4. Promote market-based approaches to conservation on private land

Second, the ESA’s legal framework contains many unclear, one-size-fits-all policies. Congress and the FWS could make the ESA’s framework clearer and more flexible. We have identified four ways that Congress or the FWS could improve the legal framework of the law:

  1. Consider economic factors in the designation and management of species
  2. Improve the way recovery plans are drafted and implemented
  3. Reform one-size-fits-all policies to increase regulatory flexibility
  4. Reform Section 10 and Habitat Conservation Plans

As long as protecting endangered species is our national policy, the federal government has many options to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of their policies. This policy brief outlines key failings of the ESA and provides suggestions to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the ESA. Although helping endangered species recover is a complex problem, reforming the ESA can be a win-win situation in many cases for both the conservation of species and economic development. Realigning the incentives of conservation and removing legal barriers can inspire new and innovative approaches to species recovery.

Read the full report here.