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Forgotten Section Of Endangered Species Act Gives States More Control

Kimberly Fraser / USFWS via Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

A long-forgotten section of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) shows that, back in 1973 when it was adopted, Congress originally intended to give states greater control over species management, especially about how to deal with their so-called incidental takes—or deaths. 

Recently, Wyoming’s U.S. Senator John Barrasso and members of the House of Representatives proposed legislationto reform the ESA. One reason is to get species delisted more quickly and another is to give states greater control of endangered species management. But University of Wyoming Law Professor Temple Stoellinger, who authored the paper, said some of that reform may be as simple as revising current regulations to implement the forgotten section, giving states more control.  

She said the way the law is handled now, the federal government has the control.

“It’s really sort of hands-off for the states,” Stoellinger said, “and I think that’s frustrating, particularly when you consider the scarcity of resources and the costs incurred and how many more wildlife personnel we have at the state level vs. the federal level.”

Stoellinger said in 2015, Wyoming employed 180 wildlife managers while the federal government only had 22 in the state.

She said states have other important resources to handle species recovery too, for instance, “a better relationship with private landowners and other stakeholders, which really leaves them better equipped to oversee implementation of take restrictions within the boundaries of their state.” 

Barrasso’s proposal would give states the decision of when to delist, and emphasize state data over federal, among other things. Stoellinger said her suggestion to revise current regulation would be less difficult and impactful in scope.

Melodie Edwards is the host and producer of WPM's award-winning podcast The Modern West. Her Ghost Town(ing) series looks at rural despair and resilience through the lens of her hometown of Walden, Colorado. She has been a radio reporter at WPM since 2013, covering topics from wildlife to Native American issues to agriculture.

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