August 24, 2020 Print

Protecting endangered species is a fairly uncontroversial policy issue. While the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (ESA) has helped to prevent 99 percent of listed species from going extinct, only two percent of those species have ever recovered their populations to warrant no longer being listed. To improve this poor track record, the Property and Environment Research Center (PERC) launched its “Recovering Endangered Species” project in 2017, aimed at enhancing outcomes for endangered species through market-based incentive structures that leverage both private and public conservation efforts. 

“We are excited and honored that PERC's unique, free-market approach to the environment has earned us a spot as a finalist for the prestigious Templeton Freedom Award,” said Brian Yablonski, chief executive officer of PERC. “This recognition will highlight the positive impact PERC's market-based conservation is having on the environment and equip us to bring our message to an even larger audience.”

In March 2017, PERC released A New Landscape: 8 Ideas for Interior Development. The report offered innovative solutions to improve endangered species conservation through market-based incentives and policy reforms. A New Landscape paved the way for PERC’s April 2018 report titled The Road to Recovery: How Restoring the Endangered Species Act’s two-step process can prevent extinction and promote recovery. In A Road To Recovery, PERC proposed a regulatory distinction between endangered and threatened species to promote wildlife recovery through market-based incentives.

PERC’s research called on the U.S. Department of the Interior to take major steps to save endangered species, including: 

  1. Restoring the Endangered Species Act’s original “two-step” approach.
    Under rules implementing the ESA, all listed species were treated and regulated the same, regardless of remaining population, likeliness to recover, or natural habitat. 
     
  2. Rolling back regulatory expansions that discourage private conservation.
    The reports called for incentivizing private conservation through regulatory relief for landowners who conserve wildlife habitat.
     
  3. Clarifying species-specific listing and delisting criteria.
    PERC argued that by ensuring transparency and consistent standards for what exactly goes into listing and delisting a species, wildlife agencies and private landowners could better direct their conservation investment.

PERC quickly became a driving force in advancing these reforms, collaborating with partner organizations and facilitating a robust media campaign with 46 media mentions in outlets such as Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post, and National Review. The team also sought to educate regulatory officials, participating in frequent meetings that examined at length PERC’s reports and recommendations.

On August 12, 2019, Interior Secretary David Bernhardt signed new regulatory reforms to the Endangered Species Act, reducing regulations to promote species recovery as recommended by PERC.

“PERC’s policy wins illuminate how positive environmental outcomes are best achieved by aligning incentives with landowners,” said Brad Lips, CEO of Atlas Network. “PERC has proven that we can transcend the top-down strategies of old that proved wasteful and ineffective; its work shows how to spur innovation from the bottom up, in the interest of protecting nature.”

In addition to amending the ESA rules, PERC worked to advance another reform that sought to ease pressure on imperiled species. The United States has a serious wild horse crisis; its western rangelands have nearly four times as many horses than it can healthily sustain. As beautiful and majestic as these wild horses are, their overpopulation has resulted in competition for scarce resources, crowding out of endangered species, wild horse starvation, and severe degradation of rangeland.

PERC’s proposed program recommended incentivizing private citizens to adopt these wild horses to help cover expenses associated with training and caring for them. Under the existing law, horses are often housed in short-term facilities, which cost taxpayers about $48,000 over each animal’s lifetime.

The Bureau of Land Management incorporated PERC’s recommendation and began paying wild horse adopters $1,000 in March 2019. In the first year of the program, adoptions have increased 91 percent, representing $170 million in taxpayer savings. 

This new program saves millions of dollars annually, and more horses will enjoy permanent homes with loving families as opposed to being housed in massive, short-term facilities. People adopting these wild horses and burros are paid $500 within 60 days of adoption and another $500 per adopted animal a year later pending review of proper care and official title transfer. By getting horses off the range, habitat and forage are conserved for other species.

PERC has developed important policies that ease the burden for endangered species. The Endangered Species Act has been one of the most popular laws in the United States with an approval rating over 90 percent. Its failure to recover imperiled species will be improved with the market-focused approach that PERC recommended. PERC’s reforms have incentivized collaborative conservation while also building bridges with the broader conservation community.

Helping endangered species avoid extinction and working toward their meaningful recovery are two laudable goals that every citizen can get behind. PERC has developed strong relationships with existing players in both free-market and environmental protection circles, which has shown that collaborative conservation improves outcomes for animals and humans alike.

The Property and Environment Research Center’s Endangered Species Project is a finalist for the 2020 Templeton Freedom Award.

About Atlas Network’s 2020 Templeton Freedom Award:
Awarded annually since 2004, Atlas Network’s Templeton Freedom Award is named for the late investor and philanthropist Sir John Templeton. This prestigious prize honors Sir John’s legacy by recognizing Atlas Network’s partner organizations for exceptional and innovative contributions to the understanding of free enterprise and the advancement of public policies that encourage prosperity, innovation, and human fulfillment. The Templeton Freedom Award is generously supported by Templeton Religion Trust and will be presented during Atlas Network’s Freedom Dinner on Nov. 12. The winning organization will receive a $100,000 prize, and five additional finalists will receive $20,000 prizes. The finalists for the 2020 Templeton Freedom Award are:

The Templeton Freedom Award is generously sponsored by Templeton Religion Trust.

For media inquiries about the 2020 Templeton Freedom Award, contact AJ Skiera at Aj.Skiera@AtlasNetwork.org or (224)636-3227.                     

About the Property and Environment Research Center:
The Property and Environment Research Center (PERC) is dedicated to improving environmental quality through property rights and markets. PERC envisions conservation policies and practices that focus on results rather than rhetoric and replace conflict with cooperation. Their goal is to foster a culture of environmental entrepreneurship.

About Atlas Network:
Atlas Network increases opportunity and prosperity by strengthening a global network of independent civil society organizations that promote individual freedom and remove barriers to human flourishing.