How Much Are We Willing to Pay to Save the Oregon Spotted Frog?

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.

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