SMNR: Endangered Species Act

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Meeting Times

Day Time Location
WED 3:55 - 5:45 pm TNH 3.114

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The Endangered Species Act has been labeled "the pit bull of environmental statutues" because of the strong protection it provides to imperiled plants and animals. But almost 50 years after its near-unanimous passage by Congress, the Act is a lightening rod for controversy. It is often criticized by developers for causing delays and higher costs, and by environmentalists for failing to live up to its full potential, because it seldom stops projects altogether. This seminar will explore Act's record and the data that elucidate the effectiveness of the Act and the extent to which it hinders (or not) economic development in the United States. We will focus on the key legal issues associated with implementation of the federal Endangered Species Act and examine the unique challenges associated with addressing the threats to biodiversity that are posed by climate change, especially during a time that portions of the public and some policy makers are expressing skepticism about science. Students will read and discuss articles and excerpts from books about the Endangered Species Act, biodiversity protection, and climate change. After an introductory session on the structure of the Endangered Species Act, the seminar will focus on: (1) the importance of the Endangered Species Act in preventing species extinctions and the Act’s track record; (2) the responsibilities of federal agencies and non-federal actors to avoid harm to endangered species and promote species’ recovery; (3) conflicts between water and land development and endangered species protection; (4) incentives for private landowners to protect rare species; (5) the challenges of enforcing the Act; and (5) legal approaches to addressing climate change within the context of the Endangered Species Act. We will also discuss the recent regulatory changes adopted by the Trump Administration, some of which were withdrawn by the Biden Administration, and their implications for endangered species management. During the last several weeks of class, students will present their seminar papers on topics related to endangered species protection. Students may choose to develop papers about a range of subjects related to the act, including the challenges of balancing species protection with economic development, the tensions between federal and state/local control over activities that affect species, and the track record of past administrative efforts to update/reform the ESA's implementation. 

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