January 01, 2015

Vantage Point

Lisa Kirschner

We are inundated with information documenting humankind’s ability to transform the environment and the corresponding impact on other species. It is undeniable; human beings have accelerated or triggered environmental changes that often have catastrophic consequences for other species. While we may sometimes be oblivious, act too late or specifically disregard the outcome of our actions, we are, at other times, motivated, contemplative and productive in our conservation and mitigation efforts. The articles in this issue are, in my view, a testament to the latter. If these topics are indicative of a broader sensibility, human beings have and continue to utilize the legal system to try and influence our collective impacts on species in a measured, predictable, thoughtful way.

This issue begins with an article on a conservationist law that is over a century old, the Lacey Act. The article documents the Act’s contemporary concepts, including, among others, its ability to assist federal, state, and tribal governments in administering public trust duties to maintain fish and wildlife populations. The author suggests that the law remains relevant and effective and necessary.

There are a series of subsequent articles focusing on the implementation of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) including those addressing complications citing utility-scale wind and solar projects and ESA-related conflicts with energy extraction projects. These authors do not, however, dismiss the role of the law in helping endangered and threatened species survive and thrive; rather, they make suggestions for ways it can be better utilized to achieve those goals while also allowing for competing land uses.

An ESA implementation discussion would be incomplete without an article looking at the trends in citizen suit enforcement. The citizen suit update is followed by an article focusing on ESA “no effect” determinations and advising interested parties how to avoid litigation by advocating for early coordination with agencies outside the formal ESA consultation framework.

Listing and delisting issues remain “hot” topics. This issue addresses some of the emblematic species of our time: the greater sage grouse proposed listing, the gray wolf proposed delisting, and the polar bear listing-related litigation. These articles reinforce the struggle of specific species in the face of challenging circumstances, the scientific debates inherent to the listing and de-listing processes, and certain of the legal principles being raised in litigation. The listing section is followed by two articles discussing aspects of ecosystem scale habitat conservation efforts aimed at creating an environment where species can recover.

The final two articles in this issue reflect an effort to look outside the ESA context at two very different species-related challenges. One addresses marine genetic resources that are found outside national jurisdiction. It describes the legal and practical challenges associated with management of the resources including the sometimes conflicting aspects of patent and marine law. The issue concludes with an article on aboriginal subsistence hunting and fishing rights for Alaska Natives and recent legal decisions related to management of the same.

The breadth of articles is intended to reflect the wide variety of issues and approaches our species takes towards the protection of other species. While we can’t be certain that our efforts will be successful, deliberation regarding these critical issues can help assuage the gloom and doom that is seemingly omnipresent in species-related news.

Lisa A. Kirschner

Issue Editor

Lisa Kirschner

Lisa Kirschner is the issue editor of the Winter 2015 issue of Natural Resources & Environment.