The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!
Ignoring Scientific Review Is the Norm When Designating Critical Habitat for Endangered Species
A new study in the international journal Bioscience finds that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) routinely ignored scientific peer review when designating protected critical habitat for endangered species. According to the study published this month, the agency ignored recommendations by scientific experts to add areas to critical habitat to ensure the survival and recovery of endangered species 92 percent of the time.
“Our study shows the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service completely failed to rely on the best available science when deciding which habitat to protect for some of America’s most endangered species,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity and lead author of the peer-reviewed study. “This isn’t some meaningless bureaucratic oversight. Ignoring scientists’ advice jeopardizes the survival and recovery of endangered species.”
The designation of critical habitat is a key step in protecting the most important areas used by endangered species. Species with protected critical habitat are twice as likely to be recovering as those without it. As part of making a designation, the Fish and Wildlife Service must have experts outside the agency review the proposed designation to make sure it’s scientifically sound and suitable to help species survive and recover.
Using data obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, the study reviewed 169 peer reviews of 42 critical habitat designations for 336 species covering a five-year period (2002-2007). Of the 169 reviews, 85 recommended adding areas and 19 recommended subtracting areas. In response, the agency added areas in only four cases and subtracted areas in only nine cases. After peer review, 81 percent (34) of the 42 critical habitat designations were reduced by an average of 43 percent.
“Routinely, the agency dismisses scientific advice on the grounds that they need ‘flexibility’ to better serve endangered species,” said Stuart Pimm, chair of conservation at Duke University and one of the study’s authors. “There is absolutely no evidence that, in consistently denying threatened species their needed habitats, any species has benefited.”
In addition to examining the peer reviews, the study presented case studies examining the process for designating critical habitat for the southwestern willow flycatcher and Cape Sable seaside sparrow. In the case of the flycatcher, the peer reviewers faulted the proposed designation for failing to include areas recommended by a scientific recovery plan. Rather than add additional areas, however, the agency cut the designation by 53 percent at the behest of a former political appointee at the Department of the Interior. In the case of the sparrow, the agency cut an area from critical habitat against the advice of peer reviewers (one of whom described the area as “extremely important”) based on the false premise that designation of critical habitat would conflict with Everglades restoration.
“Science, not politics, ought to drive which habitat is protected for endangered species,” said Greenwald. “Obtaining peer review shouldn’t simply be about checking off a box on a form. Saving species means saving the places they live and, when it comes to that, our best scientists need to be listened to.”
The study is the first to systematically examine a government agency’s response to peer review of its decisions. Peer review of government decisions is fundamentally different from peer review of scientific studies in that there is no editor to determine whether peer review has been properly considered or, if appropriate, followed. To rectify this situation, the study recommends appointing an arbiter to oversee the government’s response to peer review and giving agency scientists more independence to ensure closer adherence to scientific information.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Jeremy Hance
VIETNAM, July 2019 – I'm chasing a ghost, I think not for the first time, as night falls and I gather up my gear in a hotel in a village in southern Vietnam. I pack my camera, a bottle of water, and a poncho; outside the window I can see a light rain.
By George Citroner
The Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion and the World Health Organization currently recommend either 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise (walking, gardening, doing household chores) or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic exercise (running, cycling, swimming) every week.
But there's little research looking at the benefits, if any, of exercising less than the 75 minute minimum.
It seems the reality of the climate crisis is too much for the Federal Reserve to ignore anymore.
For 21 years, Doug Distaso served his country in the United States Air Force.
He commanded joint aviation, maintenance, and support personnel globally and served as a primary legislative affairs lead for two U.S. Special Operations Command leaders.
But after an Air Force plane accident left him with a traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and chronic pain, Distaso was placed on more than a dozen prescription medications by doctors at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
By Bailey Hopp
If you had to choose a diamond for your engagement ring from below or above the ground, which would you pick … and why would you pick it? This is the main question consumers are facing when picking out their diamond engagement ring today. With a dramatic increase in demand for conflict-free lab-grown diamonds, the diamond industry is shifting right before our eyes.
The scourge of plastic waste that washes up on once-pristine beaches and finds its way into the middle of the ocean often starts on land, is dumped in rivers and canals, and gets carried out to sea. At the current rate, marine plastic is predicted to outweigh all the fish in the seas by 2050, according to Silicon Canals.