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The ESA Today: Eco-Pragmatism and State Conservation Efforts

October 2016

Citation: ELR 10827

Author: Kerry L. McGrath, Gary Frazer, Brett Hartl, Matt Haynie

In 2010, FWS found listing the greater sage-grouse under the ESA was “warranted but precluded” by other ESA priorities. In an effort to avoid future listing, one of the largest voluntary conservation efforts was undertaken by state and federal agencies, private landowners, industry, and environmental groups to protect grouse habitat. After a status review, in the fall of 2015 FWS determined listing the grouse was not warranted. While supporters of the decision have applauded the engagement of stakeholders in voluntary pre-listing conservation strategies, critics claim these measures fall short of ESA requirements, arguing that state-based protection plans are more likely to grant exceptions for economic interests. The narrative around the sage-grouse determination raises questions of “eco-pragmatism,” where factors such as climate change and human population growth guide environmental decisionmaking, and protection efforts are balanced with development needs. On May 4, 2016, the Environmental Law Institute convened a panel of experts to discuss the evolving approaches to species protection under the ESA. This Dialogue presents a transcript of that seminar, which has been edited for clarity and readability.

Kerry L. McGrath, Associate, Hunton & Williams (moderator); Gary Frazer, Assistant Director for Endangered Species, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service; Brett Hartl, Endangered Species Policy Director, Center for Biological Diversity; and Matt Haynie, Senior Counsel, American Petroleum Institute.

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