Scientists to Congress: Leave Wildlife Management Decisions To Us

Today, nearly 1,300 scientists sent a letter to the Senate, asking Congress to stay out of Endangered Species Act decisions.  While the letter was prompted by proposed legislation to remove gray wolves from the endangered species list, a number of recent similar proposals have also threatened to replace scientific judgment with political calculation when it comes to endangered species management.

For example, in addition to the bills that would remove wolves from the Endangered Species Act, Rep. Young (R-AK) introduced a measure in January that would end protections for polar bears.  If any of these provisions were to pass, it would mark the first time that Congress has ever legislatively removed a species from the endangered species list.  Such an act would set the terrible precedent of allowing politicians to manage wildlife and make decisions that should be left to biologists. 

Other proposals that would allow exemptions from the Endangered Species Act include a bill by Rep.  Baca (D-CA), which is aimed at removing the Delhi Sands Flower-loving Fly from the endangered species list, but would also declare a species extinct if it did not demonstrate “substantial” signs of recovering within 15 years, despite the fact that recovering species from the brink of extinction can take decades.  Just recently, Rep. Costa (D-CA) introduced legislation that would override the Endangered Species Act when it comes to water allocation in the San Joaquin Delta – a similar provision was recently included in the House spending bill.  Each of these provisions represents a disturbing, growing trend of political interference in Endangered Species Act decisions.

The Endangered Species Act helps preserve the overall diversity of our biological resources – diversity which is responsible for providing what is referred to as “ecosystem services” (i.e., food, fiber, medicine, clean water, etc.).  As the scientists wrote to Congress, “To undermine the careful and thoughtful scientific process that determines whether a species is endangered or recovered would jeopardize not only the species in question and the continued success of the Endangered Species Act, but the very foundation of the ecosystems that sustain us all.”

The scientists who signed the letter represent all fifty U.S. states, plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.  Their support mirrors recent national survey results which indicate that 92% of U.S. citizens believe that decisions about wildlife management and which animals need protection should be made by scientists, not politicians. 

The message to Congress is loud and clear:  when it comes to managing our country’s endangered wildlife, keep politics out of it.

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The Bald Eagle, our national symbol,was successfully recovered by the Endangered Species Act.  Photo credit: USFWS