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March 30, 2011 

Hundreds of Scientists Denounce Congress' Attempt to Undermine Endangered Species Act

WASHINGTON (March 30, 2011) – Nearly 1,300 scientists today urged senators to oppose efforts to undermine the scientific authority of the Endangered Species Act, which they fear would threaten the long-term survival of all species protected by the law.

The letter, signed by 1,293 scientists with expertise in biology, ecology and other relevant disciplines, urges senators to block any legislation that would compromise the scientific foundation of the law. The Senate is now considering its version of the House’s Continuing Resolution for Fiscal Year 2011 (H.R. 1), which includes language that would take the gray wolf off the endangered species list. The lone rider on the Senate version contains similar language.

If Congress passed the continuing resolution with the gray wolf provision, it would be the first time a species was delisted without the benefit of scientific analysis, establishing a precedent for Congress to delist other species without scientific review.  

“The consequences of this action would extend far beyond the survival of one particular species,” said Franz Camenzind, a Wyoming-based wildlife ecologist who signed the letter. “If any one species is taken off the endangered species list by Congress, then all of the species on the list become vulnerable to future political attacks. This would send the implementation of the Endangered Species Act into chaos, creating uncertainty both for species and for the communities and businesses around them.”

At the same time Congress is poised to delist the gray wolf, a federal judge in Montana is considering an agreement between the Department of Interior and several environmental groups to remove Endangered Species Act protections for the gray wolf in Idaho and Montana. The agreement would grant those two states management authority over the wolf but retain federal protection for the animal in four other states.

The scientists’ letter points out that Congress is flouting an Endangered Species Act stipulation that any determination to add or remove a species from the endangered species list be made solely on the best available science. After a species is added to the list, authorities can consider other factors when making decisions about how to best ensure a species’ recovery. The law also includes a provision that allows the government to override species protections in special cases.

“Allowing Congress to remove or add protections for particular species would set a dangerous precedent, as the fate of every species on the endangered species list (or any candidate for that list) would then be subject to political interference,” the letter states. “To undermine the careful and thoughtful scientific process that determines whether a species is endangered or recovered would jeopardize not only the species in question and the continued success of the Endangered Species Act, but the very foundation of the ecosystems that sustain us all.”

The scientific foundation of the Endangered Species Act has come under attack in recent years. In 2006, for example, Congress unsuccessfully tried to limit the methods that scientists use to determine that a species warranted protection. And over the last decade, political appointees rewrote numerous scientific documents and misrepresented scientific facts to hinder federal protection for several species, including the Florida panther, southwestern bald eagle, trumpeter swan, bull trout and sage grouse.

Just this month, Rep. Joe Baca (D-Calif.) introduced legislation that would take endangered species off the protected list after an arbitrary deadline of 15 years if no substantial population increase could be demonstrated, suggesting that listing the species did not help it recover. Such a law would essentially delist species like the Delhi Sands flower-loving fly.

"The Endangered Species Act works because of its reliance on science,” said Scott Creel, an ecology professor at Montana State University who has studied the gray wolf. "If we allow  political forces to pressure Congress to circumvent this process for one species, then the entire system is compromised. The fundamental issue here is not policy for the management of wolves, it is the integrity of the process by which the US government commits to preventing extinctions within our borders.  Congress simply does not have the scientific background to evaluate the ecology, population dynamics and extinction risk for individual species. Congress does not fine tune the launch specifics of NASA's rockets, and there is a parallel here."

 

The Union of Concerned Scientists puts rigorous, independent science to work to solve our planet's most pressing problems. Joining with citizens across the country, we combine technical analysis and effective advocacy to create innovative, practical solutions for a healthy, safe, and sustainable future.

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