How Endangered Species Are Responsible for Trillions of Dollars in the Global Economy
The federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) protects about 1,600 plants and animals. This piece of legislation enhances our ecosystems, provides clean drinking water, and generates a significant amount of money. That money is referred to by economists as “ecosystem services,” usually totaling about $1.6 trillion each year. Besides the trillions of dollars these species help to bring in, they also prevent crop contamination, contribute to powerful medications and attract crowds of people every year through tourism.
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Some animals protected in the ESA are natural predators to pests that kill precious resources. Because of that, those predators’ value goes up. For example, the ESA protects bats, which provide $1 billion worth of pest control each year.
Similarly, the ESA recognizes 49 species of insects as endangered or threatened. Insects provide $57 billion in ecological services to the United States, with $4.5 billion of that being in protecting crops. Additionally, bees and other insect pollinators bring in $3.07 billion through their assistance in growing produce and plants.
Medical research has found numerous plants to be of tremendous value to developing drugs–and even cures–for disease. Some of these plants have been placed on the endangered species list. For reference, slippery elm (elm tree bark’s gummy lining) can treat coughs, gastrointestinal issues and skin irritations, but has recently been found to be in low supply. The wood of the tree isn’t typically used for anything, so people have stripped the tree of its bark, leaving it to die. Approximately 12 trees are gutted for 50 pounds of bark. That much bark sells for $150 a bag. Slippery elm helps contribute to the $23 billion dietary supplement industry — but at what cost to the environment?
Another dwindling resource is American ginseng, used primarily for its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. Wild and cultivated ginseng amounts to $25 million a year in sales in North America. Similarly, yew trees are used in the production process of taxol, one of the most commonly used medications used in chemotherapy. It currently brings in $1 billion a year. However, many yew trees are being over-harvested and are in danger of dying out.
Supporting animals in our ecosystems means we have the opportunity to see those animals flourish in their natural habitat. PBS reports that protecting something like a small fish might not seem impactful at a glance, but that fish is a part of a bigger food chain. The food chain feeds animals like the dolphin, which people pay to interact with every year. Protected insects are part of a larger food chain for fish, birds and deer, bringing in $49.93 billion worth of hunting, fishing and bird watching. Paying to catch a glimpse of endangered species delivers a boost to the economy. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found that people visiting all types of wildlife brought in about $55 billion to the United States. Even just whale watching alone has been known to bring in $2 billion annually to the global economy.
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