If you find oil or natural gas on your property, the value goes up. If you find an endangered species, your land becomes virtually worthless because the critter prevents productive use.
Most people would be excited to have a Jed-Clampet moment when, while hunting for dinner, the shot resulted in bubbling crude coming up from the ground. Like the Clampet family, your life would change dramatically. Your land would suddenly be worth more than you’d ever dreamed!
If, while hunting for dinner, you instead find an endangered species—the half-jest, half-serious advice would be “shoot, shovel and shut up.” Kent Holsinger, a Colorado attorney whose work centers around endangered species issues, told me that he has seen many landowners lose significant value due to a listed species being found on their property.
The Endangered Species Act (ESA) was signed into law in 1973 by President Richard Nixon to preserve, protect and recover key domestic species. Though well intentioned at the start, the ESA has since been used as a tool to hinder or block economic activity from logging and farming to mining and oil-and-gas development—often to protect species that don’t truly need it.
In my book, Energy Freedom, I feature an entire chapter on the spotted owl because it gives us a beginning-to-end case history on the ESA. The spotted owl was listed as an endangered species on June 26, 1990, and has since shut down a substantial part of federal timber harvest and threatens logging on private lands. I start the chapter with these words: “It is hard to imagine a bigger failure—or a greater success—depending upon which side of the issue you stand. If you strive for open and honest government policy that is straightforward about its goals, this twenty-year experiment has failed. If you believe the end justifies the means, regardless of the cost in life or livelihood, then the spotted owl represents a great success.” I sum it up this way: “the spotted owl threatens private property rights, kills jobs, and puts the health of the forest in peril.” All that, and the owls have not “recovered.”
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