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Extinction Countdown

Extinction Countdown

News and research about endangered species from around the world

Scientists want politics kept out of endangered species decisions

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Some 1,293 scientists sent a letter (pdf) this week to each and every U.S. senator urging them not to support any endangered species legislation that is based on politics rather than science.

"As scientists with expertise in biological systems," the letter reads, "we are writing to urge you to vote against any legislation that would undercut the use of best available science as the basis for adding or removing any particular species from the protection of the Endangered Species Act."

The letter, sent under the aegis of the Union of Concerned Scientists, follows recent political moves to remove the gray wolf (Canis lupis) from the endangered species list as well as other similar actions making their way through the legislative process. The document was signed by scientists from all 50 states, the District of Columbia and two U.S. territories.

"If any one species is taken off the endangered species list by Congress, then all of the species on the list become vulnerable to future political attacks," said wildlife ecologist Franz Camenzind, one of the signatories, in a prepared statement. "This would send the implementation of the Endangered Species Act into chaos, creating uncertainty both for species and for the communities and businesses around them."

Other attempts to legislate endangered species based on political decisions include a bill from Rep. Joe Baca (D–Calif.) that would limit Endangered Species Act (ESA) protection to 15 years, a period in which species could either recover or on its expiration no longer be safeguarded; legislation from Rep. Don Young (R–Alaska) to remove polar bears from the ESA; and spending bills in both houses of Congress to end water-use restrictions put in place to protect endangered species in the Sacramento–San Joaquin River Delta.

Of course, even outside of the legislative branch, the best scientific information can't always save endangered species from sociopolitical realities. The science included in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's recent review of the Mount Charleston blue butterfly (Icaricia shasta) (pdf) is detailed and precise, but the species was denied ESA protection because there are no funds available. The Berry Cave salamander (Gyrinophilus gulolineatus) was denied coverage this month for similar reasons. Meanwhile, the U.S. House of Representatives has proposed substantial or total cuts to a number of conservation programs including the North American Wetlands Conservation Fund, the Land and Water Conservation Fund, state and wildlife grants, and the Clean Water Act—all of which directly or indirectly impact threatened species.

Preserving wildlife and nature does not come cheap, but as the scientists' letter points out, "Biological diversity provides food, fiber, medicines, clean water and myriad other ecosystem products and services on which we depend every day. 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."

 

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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