The Value of an Endangered Species

Osnowitz, Matthew

In the United States, the Endangered Species Act (ESA) represents the federal government’s paramount effort to protect endangered species. In no uncertain terms, the ESA prohibits harming endangered species by both private and governmental actors. Moreover, the Supreme Court determined that the ESA prevents courts from exercising their usual discretion when such actors take actions that will foreseeably result in harm to endangered species. Put simply, the ESA prevents courts from allowing harm to come to endangered species even if that harm is necessary for an immense benefit to human beings. This broad protection has been effective in preventing ecological loss in the U.S. But because of the breadth of the statute, courts must sometimes resolve disputes where harm to an endangered species is necessary to protect human health and safety. In these cases, courts have severely narrowed the ESA’s protections. Furthermore, changes in human and animal migration caused by climate change will pit human health against the welfare of endangered species far more often. Without better guidance from Congress, courts will likely continue to erode the strength of the ESA. This Note proposes expanding the ESA’s exemption process in order to forestall foundational attacks on the statute. By addressing this issue now, Congress can preserve the ESA’s core protections against increasingly problematic precedent.

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Columbia Journal of Environmental Law

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April 11, 2022


Keywords: Endangered Species, Endangered Species Act, ESA, Injunctions, ESA Injunctions, Endangered Species Act Injunctions, Animal Conservation, Environmental Statutes, TVA v. Hill, Tennessee Valley Authority, Delta Smelt Cases, Statutory Exemptions