If a species is removed, its protection falls to voluntary state-led conservation agreements, and landowners don't have to follow federal protection policies. Voluntary agreements "have been a long time in the making," Allison Winter of Energy and Environment News reports. The Endangered Species Act has been shrouded in controversy since its 1973 enactment, she writes, even though environmentalists say its one of the most effective laws for protecting species. Critics of the act say it's become too cumbersome and restrictive on development. Voluntary agreements began during the Clinton administration, and more than 70 landowners have enrolled 1.1 million acres in conservation agreements, providing habitat for 41 species.
Ranchers, farmers, wind-energy companies and oil and gas companies are increasing requests for such agreements so they can increase development on previously protected land, and the FWS is trying to determine how to streamline the review process, Winter reports. The agency plans to issue final listing decisions for 251 species, and initial findings on hundreds of other species, as part of a legal settlement with environmental groups. Two high-profile candidates are the greater sage grouse and the lesser prairie chicken, the status of which could affect development across the West, Winter reports.