Greenwire (subscription required) reported this week that the Fish & Wildlife Service Recovery Plan for the Oregon spotted frog estimates that the cost to achieve recovery of the frog will be roughly $2.7 billion over 40 years. This post isn’t about the Oregon spotted frog or even about the Endangered Species Act as a whole. (I’ve blogged multiple times about how flawed the NAAQS-setting process is from a cost-benefit point of view.)
It’s not about whether $2.7 billion is a lot of money to spend on species recovery or whether it will be “worth it” to save the Oregon spotted frog.
It’s about the fact that we don’t even have a way of evaluating whether $2.7 is the right about to spend or whether it’s too little or too much. I will go out on a limb and say it’s a heck of a lot of money to spend when we don’t know and can’t evaluate whether it’s the right amount.
As regular readers will know, I’m a big believer in cost-benefit analysis. I acknowledge that the ESA is the poster child for the limitations of cost-benefit analysis. It’s wicked hard to put a value on saving the Oregon spotted frog. But nonetheless, if we list it as endangered and we implement a recovery plan that costs $2.7 billion, then we’ve made an implicit decision that it’s worth it to do so.
I sure wish I had a way of knowing whether that’s the right decision or not. Goldilocks had it easy.