How the Endangered Species Act Affects Developers

Environmental Training Resource
December 4, 2012 — 1,433 views  
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In theory, the Endangered Species Act, or ESA, is a great idea. It was designed to protect the habitats of endangered animals and plants within the United States. The idea was to keep small areas of land from being developed, allowing the few species in danger of becoming extinct to survive in peace.

In reality, the complex requirements have hampered developers attempting to utilize purchased land. The criteria for becoming a protected habitat are too low with too many species being listed as endangered.

One instance is a type of weed that is rare in Colorado and Wyoming, thus garnering it protected status. The same weed is common in Canada, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. The lands where this weed is growing in Colorado and Wyoming are closed to development. No such restrictions apply in Wisconsin or Minnesota where the same weed grows.

Developers across the United States have run into problems with the Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, state-level departments of the environment, activists, and stockholders. Developers make investments into land areas in order to develop the land for some other purpose - housing, commerce, manufacturing, etc.

Developers have a plan for the land, an estimated timeline to complete the project, and an estimated cost to develop. When the ESA becomes an issue, the development project can be put on hold for a decade or longer while the EPA performs analysis reports and works with many green organizations.

In the end, the project takes significantly longer than desired, the costs shoot up exponentially, and the ability to develop the land and bring the new structure online diminishes. It can often be more hassle than it is worth dealing with the ESA.

In some instances, compromises can be arranged to protect the endangered species while still allowing for the development of the property. Some compromises over the years have included relocating the habitat to another area, creating sanctuary lands on the property, altering the size, shape, or purpose of the structure being developed, and cutting the habitat off the property. These are not always the best solutions for the developers, but allow the project to move forward without major delays.

As with any type of regulation, the thinking that created the Endangered Species Act was in the right place. It is with the execution and realization of the ESA that fails. Developers find themselves stuck in the middle of a flawed system.


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