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Endangered species and “cooperative conservation”

Updated: Jul 12, 2020


Controversy over an April 4, 2016 decision of the U.S. District Court for the District of Montana ordering the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to reconsider whether to list the American wolverine as a threatened species illustrates the difficulty the Service often faces in protecting wildlife while maintaining relationships with State and local governments and important landowners.

In this case, the Court expressed its opinion that the FWS violated the Endangered Species Act by not linking the threat of global climate change to the continued existence of the wolverine. Obviously that argument has merit. On the other hand, the Service correctly places a strong emphasis on cooperative conservation, which is an approach that can accomplish much more in terms of species protection than relying only on the Endangered Species Act.

Our experience leads us to believe that cooperative conservation is a tremendously effective method of landscape-level protection. Unfortunately, while it may or may not be the case here, cooperative efforts sometimes do not accomplish all that is required under the Endangered Species Act. The Service faced similar challenges with the listing of the black footed ferret, the prairie dog and the grey wolf.

Private land use, as well as use of public domain lands via long term lease agreements, creates an expectation of control over land use that can be dramatically impacted by the listing of an endangered or threatened species such as the wolverine. This expectation is especially strong in the West where livelihoods are dependent upon full use of public domain lands. Interpretation and implementation of the Endangered Species Act, such as reflected by the wolverine listing issue, highlights this struggle for proper use of Public Domain lands.

This is the reason that listing of endangered or threatened wildlife like the wolverine is much more difficult than would appear at first blush.

Jon Deason Bill Hartwig

Jon and Bill have been Senior Advisors at Dawson since 1997 and 2007, respectively. Jon was formerly Director of the Office of Environmental Policy and Compliance at the Department of the Interior. Bill formerly served as Chief of the National Wildlife Refuge System at the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.


The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Dawson & Associates.


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