Endangered species on private lands
Ward, Lauren Kate
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The Endangered Species Act of 1973 (ESA) may be the most powerful environmental law in the United States. The law employs restrictive land-use regulations to protect threatened and endangered species and their habitats. When enforced on private lands, these regulations often come into conflict with landowners’ private property rights. Regulations protecting federally listed species can cause economic losses and regulatory burdens for private landowners, yet the government is not required to provide compensation or assistance. Thus, current policies effectively create an economic disincentive for maintaining habitat for listed species on private lands. This disincentive may undermine conservation efforts to protect listed species on private lands, as well as induce private landowners to engage in preemptive habitat destruction for petitioned species that may be listed under the ESA in the future. Incentives, such as direct payments, tax breaks, cost-share programs, or conservation easements, could help to ameliorate this conflict. Hence, this study examines attitudes and opinions of nonindustrial private forest landowners who may be affected by endangered species regulations. A survey was designed to examine nonindustrial private forest landowners’ perspectives on the ESA, potential incentive programs, government efforts to protect the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker (Picoides borealis), and the petition to list the gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus) as a threatened species. The survey was pilot tested at the National Conference of Private Landowners in June 2015 in Virginia Beach, Virginia (n = 53). The survey was then electronically distributed to nonindustrial private forest landowners through partnerships with 10 forestry organizations (N = 928). Data collection was conducted from October 2015 through February 2016. Results provide insight into factors affecting nonindustrial private forest landowners’ attitudes toward the ESA, their preferences among various incentive programs, their willingness to cooperate with protection of listed species, and their perceptions of petitions to list new species for protection under the ESA. Results provide new insight into nonindustrial private forest landowners’ perspectives on species conservation, with implications for future policy changes that could lead to better protection of private property rights, imperiled species, and the natural environment.