USFWS reopens comment period on controversial proposal
By Bob Berwyn
Specifically, the reviewers questioned whether U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists used the best available science when they developed the delisting proposal. Part of the criticism hinged on the fact that the agency relied heavily on one single report that may have omitted some key information, and included fundamental flaws about the taxonomy and genetic differentiation of wolves.
Peer reviewers were particularly critical of the Service’s determination that the gray wolf never occurred in 29 eastern states, but rather that a different species of wolf known as the “eastern wolf” occurred there. This determination forms a primary basis for removing protections. The panel raised similar questions about wolves in the Pacific Northwest.
“The nation’s top wolf scientists today confirmed what we and millions of American’s have been saying for months: The job of wolf recovery is far from complete,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “This peer review is a major blow to the Obama administration’s highly political effort to prematurely remove protections for wolves.”
According to conservation groups, wolves only occupy about 5 percent of their historic range.
“We are calling on Secretary Jewell and Director Ashe to keep their promise to follow the best available science,” said Bethany Cotton, wildlife program director of WildEarth Guardians. “The independent peer review is clear: the Service did not do so. The only thing left is for the Service to rescind the fatally flawed proposed rule.”
“The Service’s attempt to justify this decision on dubious science does not mask the fact that wolves occupy just a small fraction of their former range in the United States,” said Greenwald. “And in the few places where wolves have returned, they face levels of persecution not seen since the early 1900s that have resulted in the deaths of more than 2,600 wolves since 2011.”
Instead of hastily removing protections for wolves under political pressure from anti-environmental states, the federal government must meet its obligation under the Endangered Species Act to recover wolves in the southern Rockies, the far West and the eastern U.S., Greenwald said.
Last May, sixteen leading wolf scientists wrote to the USFWS expressing grave concerns about the scientific integrity of the gray wolf delisting proposal. The Service ignored those concerns, pressing full steam ahead, going so far as to interfere with the initial selection of independent peer reviewers by having any scientist who had expressed doubts about the delisting removed from the panel. Once the Service’s inappropriate meddling was revealed, the peer review process was re-started. The new peer review panel produced today’s report.
In their letter, the scientists wrote:
“The gray wolf has barely begun to recover or is absent from significant portions of its former range where substantial suitable habitat remains. The Service’s draft rule fails to consider science identifying extensive suitable habitat in the Pacific Northwest, California, the southern Rocky Mountains and the Northeast. It also fails to consider the importance of these areas to the long-term survival and recovery of wolves, or the importance of wolves to the ecosystems of these regions.”
Following the conclusions of the review panel, the USFWS will reopen the comment period on the delisting proposal.
The peer review report is available online, along with instructions on how to provide comment and comprehensive links relating to the proposal, at www.fws.gov/home/wolfrecovery.
The Service will post all comments on www.regulations.gov. This generally means the agency will post any personal information provided through the process. The Service is not able to accept email or faxes. Comments must be received by midnight on March 27.
The Federal Register publication of this notice is available online at www.fws.gov/policy/frsystem/default.cfm by clicking on the 2014 Proposed Rules under Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants.