FWS Southwest Regional Director Dale Hall released a policy memo on January
27, 2005 that prohibits agency biologists from considering new scientific
information on unique genetic lineages when creating plans to protect or
recover endangered species.
According to the memo, "recovery plans cannot require special consideration
of previously unidentified genetic diversity before a species can be removed
from the list. Genetic differences must be addressed during the listing
process to determine what 'species' is being proposed. Once that is done,
there can be no further sub-division of the entity because of genetics or
any other factor unless a new listing proposal is forwarded that would
change the status of the species."
On March 11, FWS Mountain-Prairie Regional Director Ralph Morgenweck wrote
to Hall expressing profound concern with the new policy's impact on the
agency's ability to fulfill its conservation mission.
"I have concerns that the policy could run counter to the purpose of the
Endangered Species Act to recover the ecosystems upon which endangered and
threatened species depend," he wrote. "It also may contradict our direction
to use the best available science in endangered species decisions in some
In his letter, Morgenweck cites several examples where genetic diversity has
been critical to species' survival because it allows wildlife to adapt to
emerging threats, diseases and changing conditions.
By prohibiting consideration of individual or unique populations, Hall's
policy will allow FWS to declare wildlife species secure based on the status
of any single population. This would allow the agency to pronounce species
recovered even if a majority of populations were close to extinction, or
allow the agency to approve development projects that extirpate individual
In recent months, FWS has come under increasing criticism for allowing its
scientific conclusions to be altered for political reasons. A recent UCS
survey of FWS scientists found that more than in any other region, agency
biologists in the Southwest have been subjected to political interference,
with nearly half of the respondents working under Hall reporting being
"directed, for non-scientific reasons, to refrain from making" findings
protective of wildlife.
The Scientist Letter
The attention of the media to this problem gives scientists with expertise
in genetics, conservation biology, and endangered species the unique
opportunity to urge the Southwest Region to consider the best available
science when making wildlife conservation decisions.
Please join with your colleagues in a scientist sign-on letter urging the
southwest regional director to rescind the new policy by emailing Noah
Greenwald-in-the Center for Biological Diversity by Friday, May 27. The
letter will be sent to the southwest regional director and released to the
"It is indisputable that recovery of endangered species will often require
the protection and enhancement of multiple genetic lineages or populations,"
says the letter. A great number of species would be affected by the change
in policy if it were allowed to stand.
To sign the letter, email Noah Greenwald by Friday, May 27.
All scientists can write letters to the editor of the New York Times and
other newspapers that publish related stories, expressing the general
concern that political appointees are interfering in federal government
science-in-an unprecedented level--actions that have serious consequences
for our health, safety, and environment.
Museum of Zoology
University of Michigan
Ann Arbor MI 48109
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