Preemptive Habitat Destruction Under the Endangered Species Act
59 Pages Posted: 16 Aug 2000
Date Written: April 2000
This paper examines the extent to which landowners have preemptively destroyed endangered species' habitats in order to avoid potential landuse regulations prescribed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Under the ESA it is not only illegal to take (kill) an endangered species, but it is also illegal to damage their habitat. Our application is to red-cockaded woodpeckers (RCWs) in the forests of North Carolina. RCWs are an endangered species that live in old growth pine forests throughout the Southeast. Our primary hypothesis is that the closer a landowner is to known populations of RCWs, the more likely the landowner will take action to destroy the habitat for RCWs, primarily by "prematurely" cutting their pine forest. By preventing the establishment of an old growth pine stand, the landowner can insure that RCWs do not inhabit their land and avoid ESA regulations that limit or prohibit timber harvest activity. Two empirical questions are addressed: How does the potential for ESA regulation affect the harvest probability of a particular forest plot? How does the potential for ESA regulation affect the age at which a forest will be harvested? Data on over 1,000 individual forest plots from the U.S. Forest Service's Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA) and a 1997-98 North Carolina State University (NCSU) survey of over 400 landowners are used to test predictions about the probability of harvest and the age of timber when it is harvested. The location of RCW populations is used to construct various measures of the probability that a forest plot will become inhabited by RCWs and thus subject to ESA restrictions on land use. Probit regressions estimate the probability that a plot is harvested and OLS regressions - corrected for harvest selection bias - estimate the age at which a plot is harvested. In all our estimates we find that increases in the proximity of a plot to RCWs increases the probability that the plot will be harvested and decreases the age at which the forest is harvested. These findings indicate that the ESA, at least for RCWs in North Carolina, actually reduces the amount of endangered species habitat.
JEL Classification: K20, K32
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation