The former head of Trump’s EPA transition team, Myron Ebell, has called for the Endangered Species Act to be drastically overhauled, with many of the key provisions completely scrapped. The 1973 act was created to prevent the extinction of hundreds of species – however Ebell insists the act is a “political weapon” that does little to protect wildlife. While he’s not a current member of Trump’s team, his words should worry anyone who cares about conservation, because they seem to be in line with GOP lawmakers set on repealing the law.
In a speech in London, Ebell stated, “The endangered species act doesn’t do much for protecting endangered wildlife, but it does a huge amount to control private property land use, and it is enforced very selectively, so that some landowners are not affected but people with exactly the same habitat, their use is limited or eliminated. It is a political weapon and I am very interested in reforming, and I don’t know if we will see that any time in the next decade, but I hope so.”
Some researchers suggest an alternate approach: privatizing the protection of wildlife. George Wilson, an adjunct professor at Australian National University, has proposed giving landowners authority over the endangered species on their own land. This may sound strange to many in the US, but it’s an approach that’s been used in countries like Zimbabwe, Namibia, Botswana, and South Africa in years past.
Essentially, landowners would take the lead in regulating hunting, eco-tourism, and conservation programs, instead of the government. The logic behind the proposal is this: when the government takes on the duty of protecting a “public good” like wildlife, humans don’t have an incentive to help and may resent the regulations created. If those landowners are given control and offered ways to profit off tourism or hunting, they may be interested in helping those animal populations grow and thrive.
Of course, the downside is that privatization can simply result in the wealthy hoarding wildlife, creating hunting grounds full of captive animals. On the other hand, South Africa has used these policies successfully to maintain and even grow wildlife populations in the past century. It’s certainly no substitute for the protections offered by the Endangered Species Act, but it could provide a lifeline for vulnerable species if the landmark legislation is repealed.