Today the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released an independent scientific review of its proposal to strip endangered species protections from gray wolves in the lower-48. The panel was specifically asked to evaluate the Service’s proposed recognition of several new subspecies of gray wolves, including the existence of an “Eastern wolf.” Much of the government’s case for removing protections for wolves hinges on these complex “taxonomic” issues. It’s hard to describe the results of the panel’s analysis as anything less than devastating to the Fish and Wildlife Service.
According to the Final Report (which you can read here): “There was unanimity among the panel that the rule does not currently represent the ‘best available science’”
To understand why this is such an important conclusion, you have to keep two key points in mind:
First, the Endangered Species Act mandates that decisions to list and delist species under the Act shall be made “soley on the basis of the best scientific and commercial data available,” so the fact an independent panel of experts commissioned by the Service has now concluded that the best science wasn’t used is incredibly important.
Second, the panel contained a wide variety of viewpoints, including a member of the research group that first proposed the existence of an Eastern wolf, a wolf geneticist who works with another group that has been very skeptical of those claims, a highly reputable ecologist that does not specialize in wolves, and (full disclosure) a PhD geneticist who works for NRDC. Yet, despite this variety of opinion and experience, all of the scientists reached a consensus conclusion.
The Fish and Wildlife Service has reopened its public comment process in light of this report. I expect that it will hear an earful about the quality of its science. There’s an old proverb: "If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.” Right now, the Obama Administration would be wise to heed that advice and abandon their delisting plan.