No scientific integrity for wolves

The Department of Interior today issued an updated policy on scientific integrity designed “to ensure and maintain the integrity of scientific and scholarly activities used in Departmental decision making.”  I’m all for scientific integrity and protecting scientists from political manipulation especially from an agency which has suffered from such manipulation in the past.  But the policy falls short if the same agency is going to continue to rely on unscientific and outdated recovery goals to argue that wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountains have long surpassed recovery under the Endangered Species Act.

I’ve written before about how the recovery goal for wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountains – a mere 300 wolves in the three state area of Idaho, Montana and Wyoming – was never based on science and has never been adequately adjusted to account for the developing science over the past 20+ years that clearly indicates the need for thousands of individuals, not hundreds, to maintain a viable population in the long term.  The Fish and Wildlife Service and its parent agency, the Department of Interior, has at times dismissed well accepted scientific principles on population viability and even ignored the inconvenient scientific opinions of their own chosen experts in order to doggedly defend their original, baseless recovery goal.

Because of Fish and Wildlife Service’s refusal not only to acknowledge the science behind wolf recovery, but to require the States to follow it once endangered species protections are lifted, we have had to go to court to ensure that one of the best endangered species success stories doesn’t ultimately result in complete failure.

This fight over wolves – which has now dangerously boiled over from the courts and into congress – is not as much about whether the current population of wolves constitutes a recovered and viable population as it is about whether the original recovery goal of 300 wolves – which sets the basis for state management objectives – is sufficient to maintain a viable population of wolves.  It’s not.  And anyone following a scientific integrity policy could tell you that.

                     Wolf prints

Image by mdd shared via Flickr.

About the Authors

Sylvia Fallon

Director, Wildlife Conservation project

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