Reforming the Endangered Species Act: The Property Rights Perspective

Sugg Testimony on the Endangered Species Act

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Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for the opportunity to present testimony to the Endangered Species Task Force o f the Committee on Resources.  My name is Ike Sugg; I am Fellow in Wildlife and Land-Use Policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI).  CEI is a non-profit, non-partisan research and advocacy institute dedicated to the principles of free enterprise and limited government.  CEI is headquartered here in Washington, D.C.

CEI’s work includes significant efforts to advance public understanding of the hidden costs of government regulation.  CEI spends considerable effort researching and promoting free market approaches to public policy issues.  CEI also engages in direct legal action where necessary, and has represented victims of regulatory abuse before state and federal courts.


CEI has been actively involved in U.S. environmental policy debates since its founding in 1984.  CEI’s founder and president, Fred L. Smith, Jr. has worked on environmental issues since the mid-1970s, when he was a senior policy analyst at the EPA for several years.  Since its founding, CEI has been a strong proponent of what is known as “Free Market Environmentalism.”

Originated by R.J. Smith, CEI’s Senior Environmental Scholar, and developed by Fred Smith and our friends at the Political Economy Research Center in Bozeman, Montana, Free Market Environmentalism has become a respected and useful approach to thinking about environmental problems.  Rather than blaming private property rights and individual liberty for causing environmental problems, Free Market Environmentalists view those linchpins of a free society as critical to solving environmental problems.

CEI’s work on wildlife conservation and land-use policy began during the late 1980s, when the Cayman Island Turtle Farm’s (unsuccessful) petition to raise and sell green sea turtles highlighted the conservation benefits of economic incentives.  This episode also epitomized the environmental establishment’s then-strong opposition to “conservation through commerce.”  With the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) 1989 ban on trade in African ivory and hides, CEI’s involvement in wildlife conservation policy debates became manifest.

CEI’s focus on the Endangered Species Act (ESA) began in earnest when the ESA came up for reauthorization in 1992.  Since then, I have dedicated the bulk of my time and effort to advancing ESA reform and a deeper appreciation for the ethical and ecological values protected by private property rights.  I have also done considerable work on resource conservation issues in developing countries, with special emphasis on wildlife conservation and land-use policies.  Some of what I’ve learned is incorporated in this testimony. 

In my testimony, I will present CEI’s views on the approach Congress should take in reforming the ESA.  While CEI’s views are by no means identical to those of every property rights organization, they do provide a reliable guide to what other free market and property rights groups are likely to support.  A good example of an approach that such groups are unlikely to support is that taken in S 768 introduced on May 9 (see Appendix 1)