Endangered Species Protection Under Attack
In separate letters today, 89 conservation groups and 97 scientists expressed opposition to a proposed Obama administration policy that would sharply limit protection for the nation’s imperiled wildlife by reinterpreting a key phrase in the Endangered Species Act that determines when plants and animals qualify for protection. Conservation groups opposing the policy include the Center for Biological Diversity, Endangered Species Coalition, Earthjustice and the Humane Society of the United States.
“This policy is like ignoring an injured patient in the emergency room and jumping into action only when he’s at death’s door,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “If this policy had been in place when the Endangered Species Act was passed, the bald eagle would never have been protected in any of the lower 48 states, because there were still a lot of eagles up in Alaska.”
Under the Act, an endangered species is defined as any “in danger of extinction in all or a significant of portion of its range.” The phrase “significant portion of range” is important, because it means that a species need not be at risk of extinction everywhere it lives to receive protection. The proposed Obama policy reinterprets this phrase by defining “significant” to mean that loss of the species from that portion of range would threaten the survival of the species, creating a much higher threshold for imperiled wildlife to be protected under the Endangered Species Act. It also limits consideration of whether species are endangered in portions of their range to only where they currently exist and not their historic range—effectively pretending species have not already experienced massive losses from which they need to recover.
“This wrong-headed proposal strikes at the very heart of the Endangered Species Act, which was enacted to conserve the ecosystems on which imperiled species depend,” said Patrick Paranteau, a law professor at the Vermont Law School. “Instead of conserving ecosystems for their biological and economic values, this policy would promote fragmentation and degradation, driving more and more species to the brink of extinction. This is bad science, bad law and bad policy.”
In addition to the two letters sent on March 8, the proposed policy has come under extensive criticism. Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), the ranking member on the House Natural Resources Committee, criticized the policy in a Jan. 26 letter to the director of the Fish and Wildlife Service, saying the policy sets the bar for listing declining species “at much too high a threshold” and that it is inconsistent with Congress’ original intent for the Endangered Species Act. Separately the Society for Conservation Biology, the primary scientific body concerned with loss of species, submitted extensive comments today criticizing the policy.
The reasoning of the proposed policy has already been used to deny protection to the cactus ferruginous pygmy owl, even though the rare bird is at risk of being lost in the entirety of the Sonoran Desert of Arizona and Mexico. In draft findings developed prior to the development of the policy, the agency recommended the pygmy owl receive protection, but following development of the proposed policy it reversed course and denied the animal protection.
“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has long been criticized for only protecting species on the very brink of extinction, which makes recovery a difficult uphill slog,” said Greenwald. “This policy would actually codify that approach, essentially saying: ‘Let’s delay protection for these creatures until they’re in absolutely dire straits.’ ”
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With more than 1.7 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the United States and more than 100,000 deaths from the virus, physicians face unprecedented challenges in their efforts to keep Americans safe.
They also encounter what some call an "infodemic," an outbreak of misinformation that's making it more difficult to treat patients.
When Leaders and Doctors Spread Misinformation<p>When people in charge of towns, cities, states, and countries spread misinformation, the potential for belief in misinformation to result in policies can have harmful effects.</p><p><a href="https://www.northwell.edu/find-care/find-a-doctor?q=Bruce+E.+Hirsch%2C+MD&insurance=&location=&query_type=provider&physician_partners=false&default_view=list&gender=&language=&sort=relevancy" target="_blank">Dr. Bruce E. Hirsch</a>, attending physician and assistant professor in the infectious disease division of Northwell Health in Manhasset, New York, says an example of this is when President Trump informed the public he was taking hydroxychloroquine as a preventive measure.</p><p>"To approach this enormous challenge, we need some intellectual honesty and clarity, and to disregard expertise and to make decisions and model decisions based on hunches is inviting us to handle challenges on the basis of rumor and uninformed opinion. The magnitude of that error is epic," Hirsch told Healthline.</p><p>Stukus agrees, noting that the harm of this proclamation is documented.</p><p>"Early on when the president touted the benefits of hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin, people started to hoard this medicine, and state boards had to shut it down because they were getting so many prescriptions for this unproven therapy that it was not available for those who truly needed it, such as those who have lupus and autoimmune conditions," Stukus said.</p><p>He adds that calls to poison control centers increased after the president suggested using disinfectant to prevent contracting the new coronavirus.</p>
Listen to Science, Even When it Changes<p>When recommendations change or evidence flip-flops, skepticism may arise. However, Stukus says change is the beauty of science.</p><p>"That shows us that we can evolve, and if the evidence shows that our prior thoughts were incorrect, we need to be able to change our recommendations and advice based upon the best quality of evidence at the time," he said.</p><p>Pierre agrees.</p><p>"Science is an iterative process, whereby we arrive at facts and truth through repeated and controlled observations. That means that it's inherently self-correcting as we revise conclusions based on ongoing research. Scientific facts aren't immutable dogma chiseled on a tablet. They change based on the best available evidence we have at a given point in time," he said.</p><p>Because research of COVID-19 has only been underway for 6 months, information is evolving rapidly, and new information may contradict old.</p><p>"There's still much we don't know about exactly how [COVID-19] spreads, what effects it has on the body, or how to best treat it. That means that the best available evidence is preliminary, but that doesn't mean that we should ignore it or turn to other sources of information or opinion as if they're just as valid," Pierre said.</p><p>He explains that conspiracy theories based on mistrust lead to vulnerability to misinformation.</p><p>If people mistrust science because it sometimes "changes its mind," Pierre said, "that shouldn't be used to embrace other opinions based on no evidence at all, which are typically selected based on confirmation bias: what we want to believe rather than what the objective evidence supports."</p>
Where to Find the Best Information<p>Stukus says to start with the <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-nCoV/index.html" target="_blank">CDC</a> and <a href="https://www.nih.gov/health-information/coronavirus" target="_blank">NIH</a>. Then check with your local health officials, because COVID-19 guidelines may vary depending on where you live.</p><p>If you can't find information you need or have questions specifically related to you, call your primary care doctor.</p><p>"Your personal doctor should always be a resource for individual specific questions because they know best how to apply all the nuances retaining to your health, and how to incorporate all the other general [COVID-19] recommendations," Stukus said.</p><p><a href="https://www.eehealth.org/find-a-doctor/b/boyd-laura-b/" target="_blank">Dr. Laura Boyd</a>, primary care physician at Edward-Elmhurst Health Center in Elmhurst, Illinois, says her clinic receives a lot of calls about COVID-19.</p><p>"Most doctors' offices are receiving calls and answering questions, and doing phone or video visits to help clarify and/or order testing over the phone based on patients' symptoms. It is always best to call your doctor's office first instead of worrying about symptoms and waiting too long to seek treatment," she told Healthline.</p><p>If your primary care doctor has limited testing, she suggests looking on your state's public health website for available testing sites.</p><p>With a lot of unknowns related to this virus and disease, Boyd says many patients are feeling overwhelmed and anxious for a treatment.</p><p>"Unfortunately, there is no specific medication recommended for COVID for outpatient. There are a lot of ongoing studies with various drugs going on within the hospital setting. Patients should always contact their doctors about their specific symptoms as they can treat the symptoms that go along with COVID, but there is no cure," Boyd said.</p><p>While we wait for treatment and a vaccine, Hirsch, who treats patients hospitalized for COVID-19 complications on a daily basis, says everyone can do their part by washing hands, wearing a mask, and staying 6 feet apart.</p><p>"As an infectious disease doctor working in the hospital, I see the damage of the pandemic and the worst cases of what's happening. We are trying to get the best possible outcome and confronting this overwhelming biologic reality of this terrible epidemic the best we can," Hirsch said.</p><p>Everyone at home can help in the fight too, he adds.</p><p>"Follow information that is science- and evidence-based, and avoid that which is not," he said.</p>
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