FOIA request seeks evidence of proper review of wolf delisting decision

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Flawed decision undermines President Obama's pledge of scientific integrity and transparency

(03/09/2009) - WASHINGTON – President Obama pledged today to ensure that “science and the scientific process” inform and guide his administration’s decisions on issues including “protection of the environment” - one of several similar pledges he has made. But the president’s memorandum comes on the heels of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar’s surprise, scientifically flawed decision announced Friday that he plans to remove federal protections from wolves in the Northern Rockies region.

In a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request sent today, Defenders of Wildlife is seeking any documents demonstrating that Secretary Salazar undertook any new scientific review before reissuing the same legally and scientifically flawed decision previously announced by the Bush administration to remove wolves in most of the Northern Rockies region from the protections of the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

Secretary Salazar announced on March 6, 2009 that he intends to finalize a rule delisting wolves in the Northern Rockies that was issued by the Bush administration on January 14, 2009 – just six days before the end of the Bush administration. Hundreds of thousands of citizen comments opposing the delisting proposal were submitted to the Department of the Interior, including detailed comments from Defenders of Wildlife and other conservation groups pointing out that the new rule suffers from the same fundamental scientific and legal flaws as an earlier delisting rule withdrawn by the Department of the Interior in September 2008 after it was enjoined by a federal court.

In particular, the rule ignores contemporary scientific research on what constitutes a recovered wolf population and allows wolf populations to be reduced to the point where they could not achieve the natural genetic connectivity thought by scientists to be essential to the species’ long-term survival in the region.

Secretary Salazar’s decision to finalize the delisting rule, which could be published in the Federal Register later this week, will remove federal protections from wolves in Idaho, Montana and parts of neighboring states, but leaves wolves protected in Wyoming because that state’s management plan was deemed inadequate under the ESA.

“Secretary Salazar must not be listening very closely to President Obama, or to the American people,” said Defenders of Wildlife president Rodger Schlickeisen. “Despite President Obama’s vow last week to ‘restore the scientific process to its rightful place at the heart of the Endangered Species Act,’ Secretary Salazar rolled out the same flawed, legally suspect delisting rule that the Bush administration had issued in January. This plan draws lines based on political boundaries instead of biological facts, and allows nearly two-thirds of the region’s wolves to be killed after federal protections are removed.”

In a speech today announcing a new memorandum on scientific integrity and lifting a ban on stem cell research, President Obama said “in this new Administration, we base our public policies on the soundest science,” and proclaimed that “we make scientific decisions based on facts, not ideology.”

Schlickeisen noted, however: “There’s no way, in six short weeks, that the Department of the Interior had time to properly review the proposed delisting and examine the latest scientific information. If Secretary Salazar had done his job, and taken the time needed to come up with a good delisting plan, there’s no way he could have approved this half-baked recipe for disaster.”

On February 10, Schlickeisen sent a letter to Secretary Salazar urging him to reexamine the Bush administration’s wolf delisting proposal, and conduct the scientific review and collaborative process needed to develop a plan for sustainable state management of wolves. Just last week, Schlickeisen and the heads of 20 other conservation organizations delivered another letter to the Secretary urging him to “abandon the Bush rule and instead develop a wolf recovery plan to support delisting that is based on the best available science,” and adheres to the legal requirements of the ESA.

Secretary Salazar reissued the Bush plan without any response to conservation groups. Today’s FOIA request is also aimed at revealing who – if anyone – the Secretary did consult before deciding to approve the Bush plan.

“It’s simply astonishing that an administration as publicly devoted to science and transparency could allow this to happen. We believed in President Obama's commitment to transparency, public participation and collaboration,” said Schlickeisen. “All the reasons why this plan was a bad idea when the Bush administration proposed it still stand today. We’re asking why Secretary Salazar is backing this flawed plan, and we’re going to sue to stop it.”

Learn more about Defenders' efforts to safeguard wolves

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Defenders of Wildlife is dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities.  With more than 1 million members and activists, Defenders of Wildlife is a leading advocate for innovative solutions to safeguard our wildlife heritage for generations to come.  For more information, visit www.defenders.org.

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Contact(s):

Cat Lazaroff, (202) 772-3270, (202) 365-1329 (cell)
Suzanne Stone, (208) 424-9385, (208) 861-4655 (cell)

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