Western Governors’ Species Conservation and Endangered Species Act Initiative Resources

Wyoming Governor Matt Mead launched the Species Conservation and Endangered Species Act Initiative in 2015 in his capacity as Chairman of the Western Governors’ Association (WGA).  Since then, the Initiative has helped states share best practices in species management; promoted and elevated the role of states in species conservation efforts; and explored how to improve the efficacy of the Endangered Species Act. 

Video: See why state wildlife agencies have an unparalleled positive impact on wildlife conservation. Video created by the Information Branch of the Arizona Game and Fish Department.

Year Two Work Sessions

WGA has conducted a series of targeted work sessions during the second year of the Initiative to elicit more detailed input about key themes that emerged during the first year. Each work session developed a series of recommendations. While the recommendations do not necessarily reflect consensus agreement from participants, they were informed by a robust bipartisan dialogue. Here are summaries of the day-long sessions conducted so far:

  • Incentivizing Voluntary Conservation (Nov. 16, 2016): Recommendations that came out of this work session included increasing the number of conservation programs that come with regulatory assurances and collaboration by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service with states to provide models and templates to incentivize proactive voluntary conservation. Read, download summary
  • Listing, Recovery and Delisting (Jan. 31, 2017): Pairing economic incentives with critical habitat designations on private land and developing a national policy for the implementation of 4(d) rules that details best practices and incentivizes strong local input were two of the recommendations that came out of this work session. Read, download summary
  • The Role of State and Local Governments in Species Conservation and ESA Implementation (Feb. 28, 2017): Work session participants engaged in a facilitated discussion of the role of state and local governments in facilitating proactive species conservation and implementing the ESA. Recommendations included increased Section 6 funding for states and increased regulatory flexibility to allow time for state-led conservation plans to be developed. Read, download summary
  • Landscape-Scale Conservation and Best Available Science (Apr. 4, 2017): Work session participants engaged in a facilitated discussion about landscapescale conservation strategies and the best available science mandate under ESA. Dialogue included framing conservations for landscape-scale conservation efforts and examined how such efforts may interact with existing policy frameworks. Read, download summary
Species Spotlight

Species Spotlight is a case study series examining the challenges and opportunities in species conservation:

  • Learn how collaborative conservation led to a 'Not Warranted' ESA determination for Arctic Grayling in Montana. (More)
  • Take a closer look at how partnership-driven conservation resulted in the Oregon chub becoming the first fish to be delisted under the ESA. (More)
  • Learn more about the collaborative conservation actions and regulatory changes that helped recover and delist the American Peregrine Falcon under the ESA. (More)
  • Extensive development in the California habitat of the El Segundo Blue Butterfly resulted in an "endangered" listing, but the butterfly has rebounded thanks to conservation work. (More)
  • Learn more about how collaborative conservation put the Columbian white-tailed deer on the road to recovery. (More)
  • Learn about the conservation agreement that kept the Graham’s and White River beardtongues off the ESA threatened list. (More)
  • Take a closer look at how proactive conservation efforts brought the Channel Island fox from endangered to recovered in record time. (More)
  • Protecting the gopher tortoise and its ecosystem. (More)
Sage Grouse Initiative

The Sage Grouse Initiative has created a partnership of stakeholders working to conserve sage grouse habitat on ranchlands in 11 western states since its creation by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service in 2010. More information. At a glance:

  • 1,129 ranches enrolled, conserving 4.4 million acres
  • 276,000 acres of invasive conifer removed across the sage grouse range
  • 2.6 million acres benefit from custom grazing plans designed to improve sage grouse nest success
Working Lands for Wildlife

Working Lands for Wildlife (WLFW) is a program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service that provides private landowners and agricultural producers with technical and financial assistance to improve habitat for seven target species. More information. At a glance:

  • 729,000 acres of wildlife habitat were protected or restored in FY 2014 with a WLFW investment of $28 million
  • Lesser prairie chicken, New England cottontail, southwestern willow flycatcher, greater sage-grouse, gopher tortoise, bog turtle, and golden-winged warbler are target species
Intermountain West Joint Venture

Intermountain West Joint Venture is a regional partnership of government agencies, non-profit organizations, corporations, tribes and individuals collaboratively working to protect priority bird habitats across 11 western states. The joint venture provides leadership and fosters collaboration to drive successful habitat conservation outcomes. More information.

Sand County Foundation

This non-profit organization works with private landholders across North America on voluntary land management practices that benefit the environment. The Foundation works with farmers, ranchers and foresters to improve the quality of their lands through science, ethics and incentives. More information. At a glance:

  • Provides support to private individuals and communities as primary agents of conservation and management.
  • Works to remove regulatory barriers and create meaningful incentives for landowners who enhance the environment.
  • Creates on the land examples of environmental improvement suitable for replication.
Western Water Project

Trout Unlimited launched the Western Water Project in 1998 to restore healthy stream flows and habitat and now operates in California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Utah, Washington and Wyoming. The project partners with ranchers and farmers on pragmatic, on-the-ground restoration projects that illustrate how working landscapes and fish can coexist. More information. At a glance:

  • Works with ranchers, landowners and agencies to develop on-the-ground projects that restore and reconnect fragmented river systems.
  • Offers legal, scientific and project expertise to help ranchers achieve their stewardship goals.
  • Helped open up 500 miles of previously inaccessible habitat for native trout on the Blackfoot River.
Tern and Plover Conservation Partnership

The Partnership has worked since 1999 to protect endangered Interior Least Terns and threatened Piping Plovers in Nebraska. Housed at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and staffed by university employees, the program relies on the voluntary participation of sand and gravel companies that operate near the birds’ habitat. More information. At a glance:

  • Works to reduce the likelihood of conflicts between people and birds.
  • Bird population has increased steadily since the partnership's creation.
  • The partnership has helped local mining companies save an estimated $2 million in ESA violation fines.
Washington State Salmon Recovery Board

The Washington State Legislature created the Salmon Recovery Funding Board in 1999 to provide grants for protection and restoration of salmon habitat. The board funds overall salmon recovery, including habitat projects and other activities that result in sustainable and measurable benefits for salmon and other fish species. More information. At a glance.

  • Began in the 1990’s after the federal government began listing Pacific Northwest salmon under the Endangered Species Act.
  • Composed of five state agency directors and five citizens appointed by the Governor.
  • Focuses on a community oriented “bottom up” approach to species conservation planning.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife Wetlands Program

The Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) Wetlands Program preserves and restores state wetland habitat, benefiting at-risk species while expanding outdoor recreation and hunting opportunities. Funded primarily by Great Outdoors Colorado, the program funds habitat improvement on private and public lands. The state-provided funds are often used to leverage federal partnerships and funding, maximizing the program’s impact. More information. At a glance:

  • Benefits 15 at-risk species, including fish, birds, mammals, and amphibians that inhabit wetland areas
  • 220,000 acres of wetlands and more than 200 miles of streams protected or restored since the program began in 1997
Idaho Mule Deer Initiative

The Idaho Department of Fish and Game developed the Mule Deer Initiative (MDI) in 2004 in response to declining mule deer populations across the state. The initiative protects and improves mule deer habitat to increase the population and improve hunter satisfaction. MDI provides technical and financial assistance to private landowners interested in improving mule deer habitat on their land. The Initiative is cooperatively funded by IDFG, Pheasants Forever, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Intermountain West Joint Venture. Improving thousands of acres annually, MDI is enabling landscape-scale changes in sage steppe, riparian, and quaking aspen habitats. More information.

Central Valley Habitat Exchange

The exchange hopes to encourage investment in conservation and restoration of vital California Central Valley species habitat by promoting, monitoring and assisting in the exchange of habitat credits. A pilot program launching in 2016 will allow water and transportation developers to purchase credits from farmers who maintain habitat for Swainson’s hawk, Chinook salmon and riparian songbirds. More information. At a glance:

  • Enables private landowners to be paid for wildlife friendly agricultural practices.
  • Provides regulatory certainty for landowners and developers that fosters long-term buy-in for conservation.
  • A collaboration of public and private entities, including American Rivers, Environmental Defense Fund, Trout Unlimited, and California’s Departments of Conservation and Water Resources.


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