University of Vermont

Gund Institute for Ecological Economics

Gund Fellow Joe Roman Testifies on the Endangered Species Act before the House

Gund Fellow, Joe Roman, testified at the Natural Resources Committee Oversight Hearing on the Endangered Species Act: “ESA Decisions by Closed-door Settlement: Short-changing Science, Transparency, Private Property, and State and Local Economies” on December 12th.  You can read his full testimony or view the full hearing on the Committee’s website.

During his testimony Joe stated, “Forty years on, how has the act fared? The Endangered Species Act remains the strongest environmental legislation in the country, and the first comprehensive law to address the global extinction crisis: zero-tolerance legislation. No new extinctions, no exceptions. The diagnosis of listing a species is intended to be as clear as a visit to the doctor’s office: a species is endangered or it is not, regardless of political or economic considerations. Once a species is protected, the Fish and Wildlife Service has had a very high success rate: about 99% of listed species have been saved from extinction, and populations of most animals and plants protected under the Act are stable or increasing in size (Bean 2009). It is likely that hundreds of species would have gone extinct in the United States in the absence of this legislation.”

Joe continued his testimony by explaining the economic benefits associated with endangered species conservation, these include: “$144 billion that Americans spent on hunting, fishing, and wildlife watching in 2011 (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Census Bureau 2012),” the employment benefits, “about one in twenty people are employed directly or indirectly by such outdoor activities,” and the “$40 billion in tax revenues to state and local governments (Southwick Associates 2012).”  Joe then discussed the role of biodiversity and habitat conservation in reducing disease transmission and the added ecosystem services that come as positive externalities of the Act.

Joe concluded his testimony by stating, “The Endangered Species Act is a powerful law, but its success depends on funding it adequately and on maintaining its integrity. If we invest more in protecting species, we can recover them and receive enhanced benefits from our natural capital. All species that deserve protection should be listed and fully protected. Many species have to wait years, and sometimes decades, to be protected under the Act even though the science is clear that they need to be listed. Delaying listing makes conservation more difficult, and species have gone extinct while waiting for status determinations. Decisions should be made based on the best available science, without political interference. Economic studies should examine the economic and ecological value of protecting endangered species in addition to the costs. We should work to incentivize voluntary conservation efforts through the Farm Bill and other legislation, to protect native species and endangered habitats on private lands.”

Joe is trained as a conservation biologist and has published two books, “Whale”, and “Listed: Dispatches from America’s Endangered Species Act”, which won the Rachel Carson Environment Book Award in 2012.  His broad research interests span endangered species policy, marine mammals, and biodiversity and human health. Talking to Joe about his research is stepping into a whirlwind of exciting, cutting edge, and innovative ideas.  He has a child-like wonder about the world, which is paired well with robust scientific investigation and lyrical writing that makes science fun and approachable.  We always feel lucky to have Joe and his ideas at the Gund and UVM, and we are delighted that he was chosen to be one of the voices in favor of a robust, effective and well-funded Endangered Species Act.