CBD calls for ESA “scientific transparency” on delisting wolves

Here is a recent press release, including requested Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) documentation, from the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD). I have to agree with Hartl where he quotes himself:

“The Fish and Wildlife Service’s actions demonstrate a near total lack of transparency and scientific integrity,” said Hartl. “If the Service had followed this same logic 20 years ago, there would be no wolves in Yellowstone National Park today — and no wolves roaming across the northern Rocky Mountains . . .”

I was unaware that all listing and delisting was legally required to be based on “the best available science,” as stated earlier in the release, but I agree with Hartl’s assessments of apparent agenda-based science driving USFWS policies. I also agree that if the USFWS had been transparent and openly political about the process of transplanting wolves into Yellowstone 20 years ago, they wouldn’t be there today. I’m on the side of the elk and local landowners on this one: contrary to Hartl’s concerns, I think that no wolves in those locations was mostly a good thing.

Here’s the Press Release:

For Immediate Release, June 27, 2013

Contact: Brett Hartl, (202) 817-8121

Endangered Species Act’s Science-based Mandate Sidestepped for Political Expediency

WASHINGTON— Documents obtained from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit show last month’s proposal to remove most federal protections for gray wolves was preordained three years ago in a series of meetings with state wildlife agencies.

Under the Endangered Species Act, decisions to list and delist species must be made solely on the basis of the best available science. In this case the newly obtained documents suggest the Service pushed ahead to delist wolves without scientific support in order to obtain a political outcome desired by state fish and game agencies.

Specifically, the documents show that the Fish and Wildlife Service constrained the possible geographic scope of wolf recovery based on perceptions of “what can the public tolerate” and “where should wolves exist” rather than where suitable habitat for wolves exists or what is scientifically necessary for recovery. The meetings left state agencies in a position to dictate the fate of gray wolves across most of the lower 48 states.

Documents Reveal State Officials, Not Scientists, Led Decision to Strip Endangered Species Wolf_FOIA_document_excerptsProtections From Wolves Across Country

“This process made a mockery of the spirit of the Endangered Species Act. These documents show that years ago the Fish and Wildlife Service effectively handed over the reins on wolf recovery to state fish and game agencies, many of which are openly hostile to wolves,” said Brett Hartl, endangered species policy director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “In order to ensure this politically contrived outcome, the Fish and Wildlife Service has spent the past three years cherry-picking scientific research that justifies the predetermined outcome that wolves don’t need protection anymore.”

In August 2010 officials from a select group of state fish and game agencies were invited to a week-long workshop at the Fish and Wildlife training center in West Virginia to effectively decide the future of gray wolf recovery in the United States. The decisions made at the meeting were largely adopted in the agency’s June 2013 proposal to end federal protections for gray wolves across most of the lower 48.

As part of this process, the Fish and Wildlife Service also excluded any consideration of further protection for wolves in Colorado and Utah for either gray wolves coming from the north or Mexican wolves coming from the south. This was based solely on the opposition of the two states’ wildlife agencies and despite extensive wolf habitat in the two states. The documents also show that Fish and Wildlife promised that the input of state wildlife agencies “with a cooperative management role” would be given greater weight in any future decision-making and that it would develop a wolf delisting rule to “implement [the] understanding” reached at the 2010 meeting.

“The Fish and Wildlife Service’s actions demonstrate a near total lack of transparency and scientific integrity,” said Hartl. “If the Service had followed this same logic 20 years ago, there would be no wolves in Yellowstone National Park today — and no wolves roaming across the northern Rocky Mountains. The Service needs to go back to the drawing board and let the scientific facts guide how to recover wolves across the millions of acres of suitable wolf habitat remaining in the western United States and the Northeast.”

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 500,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

8 thoughts on “CBD calls for ESA “scientific transparency” on delisting wolves”

  1. Sigh.. I’m still confused.How can “recovery” be determined “only by science”, when “recovery” is not a scientific term?

    Unless it means “wolves everywhere they used to be with the same populations as some time in the past” but you can’t pick a time “scientifically.”

    The press release says:

    The Service needs to go back to the drawing board and let the scientific facts guide how to recover wolves across the millions of acres of suitable wolf habitat remaining in the western United States and the Northeast.”

    I can’t think of anything less prone to “science” than what is “suitable.”

    Further, there appears to be a bias in that less-populated areas are where they would get introduced, and people there would feel the effects. This is against most current conservation thinking around the world which is that local people need to be involved in conservation solutions. Kind of like telling developing countries that they shouldn’t do the same things we already did in development (like convert forests to agriculture).

    But that’s a separate question from “is there really a “science” that is separate from “values” as to what is “suitable?”

    I too hope that they put the “science” out there in a public forum so we can all have that discussion as well.

  2. I prefer the Congressional approach:

    “SEC. 1713. Before the end of the 60-day period beginning on the date of enactment of this Act, the Secretary of the Interior shall reissue the final rule published on April 2, 2009 (74 Fed. Reg. 15123 et seq.) without regard to any other provision of statute or regulation that applies to issuance of such rule. Such reissuance (including this section) shall not be subject to judicial review….”

    Let the controversy go long enough and there will be intervention. I hope to see more of this type of problem solving in the future.

      • Yep, in a “representative” democracy it’s always best for members of Congress to close the court house doors on citizens by simply attaching riders to unrelated, must-pass spending bills. Yup, give me more of that awesome “problem solving” on every key issue facing this country and let the collapse continue. God Bless America…..

  3. Also when a lawyer accuses someone of a lack of “scientific integrity” is a classic “science policy situation that shouts “Watch Out!”.”

  4. WE could call it the “Fire Rider.”
    As in “after performing due diligence regarding NEPA and NFMA requirements, all USFS timber sales in Montana and Idaho shall not be subject to judicial review for a period not to exceed ten years (fill in blank)”
    To assuage the squimish who fear a return to the “bad ol days” a codicile could be added along the lines of “unless the majority of county commisioners or registered voters in affected county,resource advisory commitee’s, affected regional collaboratives,or the state legislature’s, vote to open such timber sale or sales to litigation.”
    I inserted timber sale instead of projects, cause nobody knows the difference. And who could argue with “local or state control.” Right?

    If you wanted to retreat further you could limit the rider to “Healthy Forest timber sales.” I might add, that in the recent past the Alliance for wild rockies has litigated 13 timber sales that would treat the WUI. I do believe that the “healthy forest legislation” allows treatment outside the WUI in what…50% of projects. Is that right?

    In all of Judge molloy’s and the 9th circus’s fuzzy logic rulings, the one that stands out for it’s unambigious clarity is the one upholding Tester’s wolf rider. Congress has the right to “amend” it’s laws. In the 9th circus’s ruling, the enviros trotted out a supreme court ruling from the mid 1800’s, the same decision the 9th tried to use themselves 20 years ago until the Supreme’s “showed them the error of their ways.” Can’t get more tenuous than that.

    • Derek, You may have a fuzzy memory about what Judge Molloy actually said about Tester’s wolf rider. Again, why you folks think it’s a great idea to have members of Congress decide when US Citizens can seek redress in the federal court system is a real mystery to me. Be careful what you wish for I guess. Perhaps America only needs an executive and legislative branch of government anyway, right? What good ever came out of the US Court system, right?

      Anyway, here’s what Molloy actually said in his ruling on the Tester wolf-rider case, in which Molloy sharply criticized the use of a last-minute rider on an unassociated appropriations bill as:

      “a tearing away, an undermining and a disrespect for the fundamental idea of the rule of law. The principle behind the rule of law is to provide a mechanism and process to guide and constrain the government’s exercise of power. Political decisions derive their legitimacy from the proper function of the political process within the constraints of limited government, guided by a constitutional structure that acknowledges the importance of the doctrine of Separation of Powers. That legitimacy is enhanced by a meaningful, predictable and transparent process… Inserting environmental policy changes into appropriations bills may be politically expedient, but it transgresses the process envisioned by the Constitution by avoiding the very debate on issues of political importance said to provide legitimacy. Policy changes of questionable political viability, such as occurred here, can be forced by using insider tactics without debate, by attaching riders to legislation that must be passed.”

      “If I were not constrained by what I believe is binding precedent from the Ninth Circuit, and on-point precedent from other circuits, I would hold Section 1713 is unconstitutional because it violates the Separation of Powers doctrine…It is the function of the courts to consider arguments of principle in order to enforce a statute, even if the statute itself stems from an altered policy. This distinction holds true even when the legislative process employed involves legislative prestidigitation.”

      Yep, Derek, that’s sure some “unambigious [sic] clarity” there, right buddy?


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