The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Meghan Thornton, Union of Concerned Scientists, 202-331-6943
John Fitzgerald, Society for Conservation Biology, 202-234-4133 x 107
Ellen Paul, The Ornithological Council, 301-986-8568
Laura Bies, The Wildlife Society, 301-897-9770 x308

Biologists Call on Obama Administration to Overturn Bush Rules That Cut Science Out of Endangered Species Decisions

Interior and Commerce Secretaries Must Act by May 9


More than 1,300 federal and independent scientists with biological
expertise and three leading scientific societies today called on the
Interior and Commerce departments to overturn rule changes made in
January that weaken the scientific foundation of the Endangered Species

a letter, the scientists urged the department secretaries to rescind
changes to Endangered Species Act regulations that allow federal
agencies to decide for themselves if their own projects -- such as
roads, dams and mines -- would threaten imperiled species. Previously,
federal agencies were required to consult with biologists at the U.S.
Fish and Wildlife Service or National Marine Fisheries Service before
undertaking or permitting projects. (For a copy of the letter, go here.)

federal agencies do not have the scientific expertise to determine the
consequences of federal projects on endangered species and may have
vested interests in the implementation of a project," said Stuart Pimm,
Doris Duke Professor of Conservation Ecology at Duke University,
who helped organize the scientists' letter. "The new rules exclude
expert scientists -- who for decades have provided impartial review and
critical analysis -- from the process."

Ornithological Council, Society for Conservation Biology and the
Wildlife Society, which collectively represent more than 20,000
scientists, also sent a letter today asking the Interior and Commerce
secretaries to rescind the changes and make other improvements to the
scientific base of the Endangered Species Act. (For the letter, go here.)

the threats we face continue to evolve, federal scientists must be able
to evaluate their consequences for imperiled species. Putting
boundaries on the science that informs the Endangered Species Act
fundamentally undermines the ability of science and scientists to
protect our nation's biodiversity," said Alan Thornhill, an ecologist
and executive director of the Society for Conservation Biology.
"Politics plays a huge role in such decisions," said Michael Hutchins,
executive director and CEO of The Wildlife Society. "Expert review and
oversight are critical."

rules generated concern when they were hastily pushed through at the
end of the last administration with little discussion or debate. The
Obama administration has addressed the rule change, but has not
formally overturned it. On March 3, President Obama directed the
Commerce and Interior departments to review it, stating that "we should
be looking at ways to strengthen [the Endangered Species Act] -- not
weaken it." President Obama also directed federal agencies to continue
consulting with scientists on projects that might harm endangered

also has taken steps to address the problem. A provision in an omnibus
spending bill signed by President Obama on March 11 allows Interior
Secretary Ken Salazar and Commerce Secretary Gary Locke to rescind the
rule changes within 60 days. Secretary Salazar has said publicly that
he is concerned about the rule changes, but has not indicated that he
will act by the May 9 deadline. On Friday, it was
reported that the Interior Department sent a rule to the White House
Office of Management and Budget that addresses the interagency review
process but not other parts of the rules that the scientists want
repealed, particularly the limits on what kinds of information can be
used in determining how to protect the polar bear. The content of the
rule was not released.

two letters also urge the administration to take a more comprehensive
look at how science can better inform decision-making under the
Endangered Species Act. According to the scientists,
other recent changes create unrealistic deadlines for scientific
consultations and limit the types of information federal scientists can
consider when evaluating federal projects.

changes chop down the role of science in governmental decision-making,
leaving less than a stump behind. The loss of science translates into
real loss of biodiversity," said Francesca Grifo, a biodiversity expert
and director of the Union of Concerned Scientists' Scientific Integrity
Program. "The new rules weaken the scientific foundation of the
Endangered Species Act and make it easier to base decisions on politics
instead of science. In giving the departments the authority to roll
back these rules, Congress has given the American People a gift, and
the department secretaries need to open it."