June 28, 2012 Print

Common Sense Conservation, saving species without hurting people

The best way to preserve threatened and endangered species is to engage communities and create collaboration.

Legislators who want to protect a species should seek out ways to bring together seemingly disparate groups and individuals around that goal. Unfortunately, policymakers often rely solely on top-down land use regulation that creates an “us-versus-them” mentality and often has severe unintended consequences. Property owners burdened with these regulations sustain real losses--they may be deprived of their livelihood or their life savings. These negative consequences of harboring a threatened or endangered species turn landowners into the enemies of the animals. Regulations intended to save a species become an incentive to destroy habitat or the animals themselves.

The results of the regulatory approach often satisfy no one, divide communities, and inflame emotions. Conservationists are frustrated that regulations have little effect or are even counterproductive. Landowners are angry because species preservation is done at their expense and often with little regard for their families and businesses. Legislators are forced to choose who they will placate, knowing they will draw the ire of everyone else. Meanwhile, the goal of protecting the species gets lost in the political weeds.

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This domino effect begins with legislators who accept a false choice: save a species by top-down regulation or do nothing. There is another way. This report offers glimpses--true stories--of a better way to protect threatened and endangered species.

Legislators should recognize that while compulsion--unleashing the regulatory force of government--seems easy and direct, it often comes with heavy unintended consequences and it can even be counterproductive. Instead, legislators should consider what stakeholders can do together without compulsion. Finally, legislators should consider the interests of stakeholders and how to motivate them to come together. People protect and conserve the natural environment for different reasons and in different ways.

These pages tell their stories and give legislators insight into why and how they do it. This understanding can help all of us make better decisions. At the end of this report, legislators will find a policy guide and 5 questions to ask about a conservation bill or ordinance.

Thanks to Michel Blank, our summer intern who did the research and drafting of this report, and Glen Morgan who pointed him in the right direction.


Scott Roberts

Citizen Action Network Director

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