The Gray Wolf, The Whooping Crane, The Bald Eagle are just a few of the species of iconic wildlife that define and represent our country. They are also some of the species that we are a few wrong steps away from losing forever. Most Americans sleep better at night knowing that our government shares our concern for protecting these iconic species, dedicating money and manpower and using the best science to make management decisions, but a recent report released by the Union of Concerned Scientists suggest that this may not the case.
The report surveyed 7,000 scientists in 4 different agencies, NOAA, FDA, CDC and the Fish and Wildlife Service and the results were troubling. Of the scientists surveyed at Fish and Wildlife, 72% believe that too much consideration was given to political interests at their agency, and 47% of agency scientists believe industry interference in agency decision-making is concerning, the highest percentages of any other government agency surveyed. These numbers suggest that our comfortable confidence that the Fish and Wildlife service is acting in the best interest of America’s wildlife is unfounded, and that FWS is in fact more concerned with catering to the best interests of politicians and their industry sponsors.
Many of the responses from the scientists interviewed gave startling insight into the fragility of proper enforcement of the Endangered Species Act in the hands of an agency which does not base its decisions on proper scientific research. Perhaps best stated by an interviewed FWS scientist,
“Scientific integrity among biological staff is high, but is sometimes affected by political policy interventions by upper management. We are still hearing of high-level supervisors that take draft BOs home and rewrite them to fit political agendas”.
Or equally concerning: “Less political considerations are needed. Most decisions I’m aware of: wolf, wolverine, American burying beetle, mussels, were the result of political interference.”
Besides enforcement of the Endangered Species Act, the report highlighted other challenges within the Fish and Wildlife Service. Multiple comments described a culture of fear at FWS, both for scientists and management, scientists who feel pressured to compromise their science to protect their careers, and management who fear political attacks on the Endangered Species Act. With a budget that is regularly reduced and continued Congressional attacks to gut the Endangered Species act, a burgeoning culture of fear and reduction of efficacy at FWS is certainly understandable, but not acceptable “Our operating budgets have been decreased, as have our staffs. Our regulatory responsibilities keep increasing. As a result, staff are often spread too thin. As long as our director is a political appointee, politics will always enter into regulatory decisions”.
With the release of UCS’s report it becomes clear that some dramatic changes within The Fish and Wildlife Service need to be made before we as Americans can once again sleep easy. In the meantime America, wake up. You are now the last line of defense protecting our vanishing wildlife from disappearing forever in exchange for political gain. With what we now know, the protection of our wildlife can no longer be passed off with trust that others are taking action and making appropriate decisions, your voice is needed. Step up for wildlife and take action for change by voicing your concerns to the administration of the Fish and Wildlife Service through our action page.