Special Series Part I — Education in Action
An Evaluation of the Endangered Species Act and Private
Landowner Assurances
Corinne Conner
University of Wisconsin, Department of Wildlife Ecology, 215 Russell Laboratory, 1630 Linden Drive, Madison WI 53706
Nancy E. Mathews
University of Wisconsin, Department of Wildlife Ecology, 215 Russell Laboratory, 1630 Linden Drive, Madison WI 53706

Editor's Note
The UPDATE presents a three-part series of educational essays from Nancy Mathews' Wildlife Ecology class at the University of Wisconsin. We are presenting a selection of position papers regarding Section 10 of the Endangered Species Act. This educational exercise is an example of how the next generation of conservation biologists is being trained. In particular, the essay set reflects an emphasis on remaining sensitive to the perspectives of multiple stakeholders. Perhaps some novel ideas are embedded in these essays as well, as fresh eyes often bring new insights to old controversies. Wildlife Ecology students were given sample Habitat Conservation Plans and were instructed to assume the identity of the associated landowner, who also happened to be a trained wildlife biologist. The role-playing assignment was then given as follows: Please write a position paper to be presented at a Senate sub-committee hearing on reauthorization of the Endangered Species Act. Support or refute the intent of the Section 10 administrative policies that attempt to make conservation planning more palatable to private property owners. Give a brief overview of the policies and present the pros and cons of the private landowner assurances. Support your position using what you have learned in class, the Endangered Species Act, and the assigned Habitat Conservation Plan.


Good afternoon. My name is Corinne Conner. I am a Fish and Wildlife Service biologist in Austin, Texas. I am also a joint owner and manager of Bee Cave Oaks Development, Inc., a development company that operates out of Austin. Except for my four years in college, I have been a lifelong resident of Austin. I grew up on the south side of town; my father worked for the city until I was six, when he bought a small ranch about six miles east of Austin. We lived on that ranch my entire life; it was his sweat and blood. I now own that ranch and live there with my husband and two children.
Since my father's passing, my husband and I have acquired the land adjacent to my family's ranch as well. This area is known as the Seven Oaks Ranch. With Austin expanding rapidly in our direction, Seven Oaks' northernmost boundary now almost lies within the city limit.
Today I am here to discuss reauthorization of the Endangered Species Act (ESA). You may wonder why a small town rancher would care about the Endangered Species Act at all. There are two reasons. First, I received a bachelor's degree in wildlife ecology from the University of Wisconsin at Madison. While a student, I studied endangered species and habitat conservation. In fact, my final project as a senior was to develop a habitat conservation plan for an endangered bird. I currently work as a biologist in the Ecological Services department of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ("the Service").
Secondly, the Endangered Species Act directly affects how I am allowed to manage and develop my land. Bee Cave Oaks Development, Inc., has intended to develop Seven Oaks Ranch for several years, until the discovery of breeding pairs of golden-cheeked warblers (Dendroica chrysoparia) on the property. The warbler has been listed as endangered since 1990. As a biologist, I was thrilled to discover at least six more breeding pairs of these rare birds. As a landowner and developer, I was devastated. I was the author of the Environmental Assessment and Habitat Conservation Plan for the Incidental Take of an endangered species on my own property. Today, I am hoping to use my experiences and knowledge to convince the Senate that changes should be made to the ESA before reauthorization. In particular, I will address private landowner tools, and argue that the administrative policies associated with Section 10(A)(1)(a) should be maintained in the ESA, while those associated with Section 10(A)(1)(b) should be removed.
The ESA has been in poor favor with private landowners since its creation in 1973. A good proportion of the United States' endangered, threatened, and declining species are found on private lands and rely on sound management and conservation of these lands for restoration. While many private landowners are cooperative in managing their lands to benefit natural resources, increased financial commitments and regulations on use of their land has made other landowners reluctant to implement conservation measures. For example, if the landowner's conservation measures are a success, the species may increase in number or other endangered species may inhabit their land. This could cause increased restrictions on their private land — land which many westerners (in particular the Wise Use movement) already view as overly regulated and restricted.
Because private lands constitute such a great proportion of endangered species habitat, it is important for the Service to compromise and cooperate with private landowners for the benefit of species. In addition, private landowners need to feel that their private rights will be maintained and that they have freedom of action on their own land. It was for these reasons that Enhancement of Survival Permits and Habitat Conservation Plans were created.
Essentially, there are three options provided to private landowners in the ESA and through the new policies associated with Section 10. All three have been developed, under the Clinton Administration, as amendments to Section 10 of the ESA.