January 01, 2017

ESA Listings Pose New Issues in the Northwest

David O. Bechtold

In the 1980s and 1990s, the Pacific Northwest was at the center of the nation’s debate over the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Brendon Swedlow, Scientists, Judges, and Spotted Owls: Policymakers in the Pacific Northwest, 13 Duke Envtl. L. & Pol’y F. 187, 189 (2003). The spotted owl and pacific salmon became polarizing symbols of what was right or wrong with the ESA. Over the past two decades, the Northwest’s heavily impacted timber, shipping, and hydropower industries learned to adapt to the ESA’s strict requirements. This was accomplished largely by establishing habitat buffers between human activity and terrestrial species like the owl, and screening water intakes and establishing in-water work windows in regard to the salmon. While the impacts of these species are still felt by industry, equilibrium of sorts has been reached, and regulated entities now typically know how and when they can act. As the immediate economic shocks of those listings faded, the national focus on the ESA shifted away from the Pacific Northwest and to the Rocky Mountain states where wolf reintroductions and the proposed sage grouse listing stirred controversy.

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