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BIOLOGISTS ORDERED TO IGNORE GENETICS OF ENDANGERED SPECIES
New Fish & Wildlife Service Edict Sparks Internal Protests Over Censoring
Washington, DC -- A new U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service policy forbidding its
biologists from using wildlife genetics to protect and aid recovery of
endangered and threatened species has set off a firestorm of criticism both
inside and outside the agency. The January 27, 2005 policy issued by the
Southwest Regional Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS),
Dale Hall, prohibits agency biologists from considering unique genetic
lineages in protecting or recovering wildlife in danger of extinction.
In a March 11, 2005 letter, Ralph Morgenweck, the FWS Mountain-Prairie
Regional Director, wrote to Hall sharply rebuking the policy for
contradicting the purposes of the Endangered Species Act and running
counter to best available science, stating:
"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. It also may contradict our direction to use the
best available science in endangered species decisions in some cases."
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.
"Hall's policy is a clear attempt to irresponsibly rollback endangered
species protections by hamstringing agency scientists," stated John Horning
of Forest Guardians. "Hall is trying to destroy the vital safety net the
Endangered Species Act provides for native wildlife and fish on the brink
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 on the brink of
extinction, or allow the agency to approve development projects that
extirpate individual populations.
"If Dale Hall were in charge of the Fish and Wildlife Service, species
would be considered secure and recovered even if the only surviving members
were found in zoos," stated Noah Greenwald, conservation biologist with the
Center for Biological Diversity. "Hall's policy is a departure from good
science and undermines key protections for the nation's wildlife."
In recent months, FWS has come under increasing criticism for allowing its
scientific conclusions to be altered for political reasons. A recent survey
of FWS employees by the Union of Concerned Scientists and Public Employees
for Environmental Responsibility 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.
"Dale Hall's ban on using genetic factors is yet another attempt to
politically short-circuit science to achieve pre-determined,
pro-development results," said PEER Program Director Rebecca Roose, noting
that Hall's policy would directly affect several recovery plans now under
development in the Southwest. "Telling biologists not to consider genetic
factors is like telling engineers they cannot use mathematics."
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