Woodpecker Return Raises Worries for Land Owners

Woodpecker Return Raises Worries for Land Owners

Rare Bird Species Revives Concerns over ESA Enforcement
April 29, 2005

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Richard Morrison, 202.331.2273


Washington, D.C., April 29, 2005—Reports this week that a bird thought to be extinct for the last 60 years has been spotted in Arkansas caused bird lovers around the nation to rejoice and highlighted the need for reforming the Endangered Species Act.


“The rediscovery of the ivory-billed woodpecker, a large bird nearly the size of a raven, shows it is possible for a species to survive undetected, even in a modern highly developed and densely populated nation,” said Competitive Enterprise Institute Senior Environmental Scholar R.J. Smith.


“It shows that the doomsayers who preach that man and nature cannot both survive and that man is a cancer on the planet are totally out of touch with reality,” said Smith.


“If we want to save species like the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, we need to start rewarding and compensating property owners rather than punishing them for providing habitat,” said Smith.


“The tragic results of Endangered Species Act enforcement have been the biggest challenge to property owners’ natural instinct for stewardship,” said Smith.


Currently, the Endangered Species Act allows the federal officials to regulate private property that contains endangered species habitat—often limiting land use without providing any compensation.  Foresters, farmers and others who depend on land for their livelihood have suffered serious financial losses and some have been driven out of business by the act.  Faced with the prospects, property owners have perverse incentives to make their land unwelcoming to endangered wildlife.  As a result, the act that is supposed to save species actually impedes efforts to help them.    


The ivory-billed woodpecker, currently thought to reside primarily in the area of the Cache River National Wildlife Refuge, would arouse little concern if its habitat were confined entirely to federal lands. It is when this, or any protected species, wanders onto private land that problems begin. Federal restrictions follow the species wherever it is found, meaning that private land can, in effect, be designated as a federal refuge without due process or just compensation.


Read more about the Endangered Species Act online.