State Endangered Species Acts


William Snape

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date



The role of state governments in protecting not just endangered species but all species can be summed up with one fact: state governments traditionally have been the chief stewards of wildlife within their borders. The states therefore serve a vital role in protecting and conserving their own plants, animals, and habitats. Yet while states historically were given the role of protecting the wildlife within their borders and still retain significant rights and powers, the federal government in many instances has assumed primary responsibility over these national resources under its constitutional authorities. Under the Commerce Clause, inter alia, Congress enacted a wide range of environmental laws, including the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (ESA). Through the ESA, the federal government now exercises its vitally important power to regulate listed species and their associated habitat to achieve conservation and recovery. But the role of the states in endangered species protection was recognized from the outset, as the ESA authorized the Secretary of the Interior to enter into cooperative agreements with states that established “adequate and active” programs of protection. This chapter will explore those programs, enacted statutorily and dubbed “state endangered species acts,” as well as their history, current status, and role. The role of the states, and how to enhance the conservation of threatened and endangered species through greater state involvement, has been and likely will continue to be a topic of national discussion. Although many states have lacked the capacity, both legal and programmatic, to protect nongame species, many states are significantly increasing their focus on nongame management. By increasing their capacity, the states not only can increase their ability to manage threatened and endangered species as an extra safety net but, more important, can fulfill their trust responsibility for all wildlife species in a way that supplements and complements irreplaceable federal protections.