Last week, the bipartisan Western Governors' Association (WGA) adopted a resolution urging the federal government to defer to state conservation efforts and to prioritize funding to avoid new listings under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA). The resolution (pdf) calls for state conservation plans to "give rise to a regulatory presumption by federal agencies that an ESA listing is not warranted" and purports to provide clear guidance to states regarding minimum requirements for state and multi-state conservation plans. It also notes that states "should be included as partners” when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) or National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) makes an ESA listing determination.
While WGA's resolution applies to all species considered for listing by FWS and NMFS, it makes explicit reference to the greater sage grouse, a species that FWS must decide whether to list by September 2015 under a court order requiring FWS to make listing determinations for approximately 250 candidate species by 2018. The greater sage grouse inhabits 11 western states, all of which are represented by the WGA, and all of which have developed conservation plans or "other authorities" for conservation of the species.
The resolution emphasizes that "ESA listing decisions have real economic impacts for state and local governments" and urges federal funding for state conservation efforts to "remain robust." While not explicitly calling for a delay of FWS’ impending decision on whether to list the greater sage grouse, the resolution endorses "legislative initiatives, court rulings, petitions or regulatory measures which allow local, state, federal and private conservation efforts adequate time to be implemented and demonstrate their efficacy."
The resolution prompted a range of responses from conservation groups. One representative of WildEarth Guardians' Sagebrush Sea Campaign stated that the resolution "would replace science-based decision making with back-room politics in determining which species are protected and which are marked for extinction.”