Endangered Species Listings May Backfire

Published January 1, 2004

New research confirms that Endangered Species Act listings do not necessarily help–and may even harm–rare species on private lands.

“Private landowners’ responses suggested that the current regulatory approach to rare species conservation is insufficient to protect the Preble’s mouse,” write Amara Brook, Michaela Zint, and Raymond De Young of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor in the December issue of Conservation Biology.

More than 90 percent of federally listed species live at least partly on lands not owned by the federal government, and as many as half live entirely on nonfederal land, much of which is private. Anecdotal evidence suggests listing endangered species may not help protect them on private property because landowners may destroy species habitat to avoid land-use restrictions. Brook and her colleagues set out to test how widespread that practice might be.

The researchers surveyed 379 landowners to find out how they responded to the 1998 threatened listing of the Preble’s jumping mouse, which lives in riparian areas in parts of Colorado and Wyoming. Much of the mouse’s known habitat is on private land.

While some landowners worked to help the listed mouse, others worked to discourage it from living on their property. The survey showed that a quarter of the land in the study had been managed to improve the mouse’s habitat, but another quarter had been managed to keep the mouse from living there. Landowners were more likely to have improved the mouse’s habitat if they had received information from conservation organizations. Landowners who depended on agriculture for their livelihoods were more likely to have destroyed the mouse’s habitat.

The survey also showed that most (56 percent) of the landowners would not allow a biological survey to determine the abundance and distribution of the mouse on their land–information that is essential for developing and fine-tuning conservation plans.

The University of Michigan research suggests that listing the mouse may have done more to harm than to help it. The researchers suggest better approaches could include letting landowners know how conserving the mouse’s habitat can benefit them; reimbursing landowners for the cost of fencing to keep livestock away from riparian areas, thus protecting the habitat; and reducing landowners’ fears of regulation by including them early in the conservation decision-making process.

For more information …

The research by Amara Brook et al., “Landowners’ Responses to an Endangered Species Act Listing and Implications for Encouraging Conservation,” is available for purchase on the Web site of the Society for Conservation Biology, http://www.conbio.org/. Lead author Amara Brook can be reached at 734/649-1164, email [email protected].

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has a Web site devoted to the Preble’s Meadow Jumping Mouse, at http://www.r6.fws.gov/preble/.