Authors: Temple Stoellinger, Michael Brennan, Sara Brodnax, Ya-Wei Li, Murray Feldman, Bob Budd

Twenty-four years ago, the University of Wyoming’s Institute for Environment and Natural Resources convened a forum on the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and Private Property. A collection of the papers prepared by the forum participants—from academia, private law practice, industry, conservation groups, and government agency backgrounds—was published in the Land and Water Law Review, Volume XXXII, No. 2. That collection included a foreword by the late William D. Ruckelshaus, the first Administrator of the United States Environmental Protection Agency from 1970 to 1973 (and Administrator again from 1983 to 1984), and the founding chair of that Institute which now bears his name, the University of Wyoming Ruckelshaus Institute.

In May 2019, the University of Wyoming’s Haub School of Environment and Natural Resources (home of the Ruckelshaus Institute) and the College of Law, and Texas A&M University, through its Natural Resources Institute and School of Law, convened a workshop on options and opportunities for states to engage more meaningfully in species conservation efforts under the ESA and beyond. Consistent with what is also a goal of the Ruckelshaus Institute, this state roles workshop sought to identify and support stakeholder-driven solutions to species conservation challenges by highlighting relevant research and information and promoting collaborative decision-making processes. The workshop’s goal was to seek agreements in principle for concepts and recommendations for states to engage in ESA and other species conservation efforts. One key result of the workshop is the Workshop Report, reprinted in full here.

While much has changed in the environmental and natural resources field, ESA implementation, and species conservation since that 1996 forum, the foundational themes Bill Ruckelshaus sounded in his foreword still resonate today, perhaps with even greater force as they echo across the decades. The themes and opportunities identified then included

  • laying the groundwork for more open and honest discussion among affected parties
  • engaging citizens, industry, and government at all levels in meaningful collaborative discussion regarding how to achieve the desired result
  • collaborative decision-making processes
  • cooperative efforts to supplement and amplify the democratic processes
  • locally driven efforts with examples given from certain state programs.

Congress envisioned a strong, or at least healthy, federal-state relationship for species conservation under the ESA and noted the important role of state fish and wildlife agencies. In the 1982 ESA amendments legislative history, Congress stated that a successful endangered species program depended on a “good working arrangement” between federal and state agencies. Similarly in those ESA amendments on species listing, delisting, and critical habitat designation, the Senate Report stated that “[t]he involvement and advice of such State agencies in the Federal regulatory process is crucial and must not be ignored.” But the reality has not necessarily played out as Congress originally envisioned. Still, the recent decade-plus has seen a resurgence in state roles and activities in ESA actions and species conservation as states seek to both assert and protect their and their citizens’ interests—and the interests of the wildlife species held in trust by the states—for all of the people.

This current Workshop Report is an important contribution toward both documenting this evolving state role and mapping out how it may be further enhanced for collaborative solutions to ESA and species conservation issues. The hope of the workshop participants, consistent with Bill Ruckelshaus’s original foreword, is that this may occur with an engaged citizenry, honest discussions, collaborative decision-making, cooperative efforts, democratic processes, and locally-driven outcomes facilitated by the federal ESA framework.

Suggested Citation

Temple Stoellinger, Michael Brennan, Sara Brodnax, Ya-Wei Li, Murray Feldman and Bob Budd, Improving Cooperative State and Federal Species Conservation Efforts, 20(1) Wyo. Law Rev. 183 (2020).