From: The Wildlife Society
Published September 29, 2008 04:50 PM

Leading Scientific Societies Criticize Proposed Rule Changes to Interagency Cooperation Under the Endangered Species Act

Three prominent scientific associations today submitted comments critical of proposed regulatory changes that would eliminate the requirement that federal agencies consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or National Marine Fisheries Service (the “Services”) to determine if their activities or decisions likely will affect species protected under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The comments were submitted by the Ornithological Council, The Wildlife Society, and the Society for Conservation Biology.

Under the proposed rule, published on 15 August 2008 (73 F.R.47868), federal agencies could avoid consultation with the Services because the rule delegates to the other agencies the initial assessment of potential impact. The scientists say that this proposed rule would remove credible science from the assessment process. Few federal agencies have biologists on staff, so most have little ability to conduct the biological analyses needed to determine the probable effects of their actions. The rule would require no oversight or monitoring by the Services. As Ellen Paul, Executive Director of the Ornithological Council, pointed out, “Even oversight would be of little value, because an erroneous decision, even if reversed later, could jeopardize the survival of endangered species.”

The scientists noted that a similar rule issued in 2004 has largely failed. That rule allowed the Forest Service (FS) and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to determine if their activities under the National Fire Plan would affect protected species. In January 2008, the Services reported that most biological assessments conducted by the FS and BLM under that rule were not based on the best available scientific information. The Services also determined that the FS and BLM failed to present scientific information sufficient to justify their decisions. According to Laura Bies, Associate Director of Government Affairs for The Wildlife Society, “Even agencies with substantial scientific expertise are not adequately evaluating whether their actions are likely to harm listed species.”

The comments highlight another flaw in the proposed regulations. An agency evaluating its own project lacks independence. Checks and balances that offset an agency’s self-interest are needed. For instance, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found that the BLM’s tentative plan for 2.4 million acres of Oregon forests might eliminate habitat for 830 spotted owls and 600 marbled murrelets. Should the BLM decide that its plan was “not likely to adversely affect” protected species, it could avoid consultation with the Services and the protections that consultation triggers.

The proposed rule bars consideration of activities that increase greenhouse gas emissions. The scientific societies say that the Services lack statutory authority under the ESA to exclude such activities. John Fitzgerald, Policy Director of the Society for Conservation Biology, said, “Under the law, all federal actions are subject to consultation. The effects of substantial increases in greenhouse gas emissions permitted or funded by the federal government should be addressed by expert wildlife, pollution, and energy agencies working together to present thoughtful alternatives to the next Administration and Congress.”

The Ornithological Council is a consortium of eleven scientific societies of ornithologists throughout the Western Hemisphere; seven are based in the United States. The Council seeks to ensure that scientific information about birds is available to and used by all whose decisions and actions affect wild bird populations.

The Wildlife Society is an international scientific and educational organization of more than 8,000 wildlife professionals that works to ensure that wildlife and their habitats are conserved through management actions that take relevant scientific information into careful consideration.

The Society for Conservation Biology is a global community of more than 13,000 conservation professionals. Its mission is to advance the science and practice of conserving the Earth’s biological diversity.

Contact Info: Ellen Paul,
Executive Director, Ornithological Council,
(301) 986-8568

Laura Bies, Associate Director of Government Affairs,
The Wildlife Society,
(301) 897-9770 x 308

John Fitzgerald,
Policy Director,
Society for Conservation Biology,
(202) 234-4133 x 107

Website : The Wildlife Society

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