Thursday, August 15, 2013

Wolf decision guided by science, or politics?

Dear Alan:
The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s (FWS) clumsy handling of its drive to strip federal protections from the gray wolf is making a mockery of its claims to be guided by science. The latest episode is jaw-dropping embarrassing.

After the agency railroaded its plan to a final stage, it announced a slap-dash,fast-track peer review process to be completed in one month. Then last week, PEER revealed that the Service had three of the seven reviewers selected by its contract consultant purged from the panel. The three removed scientists are among the very top wolf experts but the Service barred them because they had signed a letter with 13 other scientists expressing concern about the scientific basis for the federal delisting plan.

This week, FWS cancelled the peer review altogether, refusing to answer media questions beyond issuing a terse statement explaining that what occurred “doesn't meet the standard for independent peer review selections.” 


Since it was FWS which compromised the independence of the panel by screening out potential scientific critics its action is like a lothario spurning his conquest because she is no longer chaste. In any event, the Service is certain to cook up yet another charade that allows it to avoid confronting the issues raised by eminent scientists (whose May 21st letter was never answered).

The transparent official hypocrisy does not stop there. As much as it wanted to, FWS could not strip federal protections from the highly endangered Mexican wolf, with only a mangy handful left in the wild.  But the Service has done everything it can to limit reintroduction of the Mexican wolf in the Southwest. 

Now, an August 1 letter from the Arizona Game & Fish Department confirms another backroom deal in which FWS committed that any Mexican wolves who ventured beyond the Mexican Wolf Experimental Population Area (a sliver of land on the Arizona/New Mexico border) “would be captured and returned.” The letter complains that this “issue of critical importance” was not explicitly written into the final plan despite the “comforting clarification” provided by top FWS officials.

The letter encapsulates what is rotten at FWS – rampant political deal-making that is the exact opposite of promises to rely upon the best available science. Yet, despite a new “Scientific Integrity Policy,” FWS is unwilling to police against even the most blatant abuses. Even in the rare instance thatscientific misconduct is determined, FWS leadership apparently will not act. (The agency is refusing to turn over the findings to PEER but we will continue to pursue them).

Had this occurred under Bush, there would be a huge hue and cry.  Arguably, what is going on now under Obama is far worse. Let Sally Jewell, the new Interior Secretary, know what you think and urge her to step in and stop these appalling shenanigans. 

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