Scientists Question Administration's Endangered Species Policies

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(04/04/1997) - Conservationists say that a statement made yesterday by a group of nine eminent biologists confirmed what they have known for some time - the federal government has not been implementing the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in a scientifically sound manner.

Defenders of Wildife President Rodger Schlickeisen said, "For more than a year now, Defenders of Wildlife and the entire Endangered Species Coalition have been urging the Clinton Administration to implement and enforce the very same policies that these scientists are calling for, and we have been lobbying members of Congress to adopt them in legislation reauthorizing the ESA."

The biologists include Reed Nossof Oregon State University, Michael Soule of the University of California, Santa Cruz, and Gary Meffe of the Savannah River Ecology Laboratory. In particular, the scientists expressed reservations with the kind of Habitat Conservation Plans (HCPs) that have proliferated under the Clinton Administration. More than 400 HCPs have been approved or are in the works. The scientists acknowledge that, "Many recent HCPs have been developed without adequate scientific guidance and there isgrowing criticism from the scientific community that HCPs have potential to become habitat giveaways that contribute to, rather than alleviate, threats to listed species and their habitats."

The paper also evaluates the Administration's controversial "No Surprises" policy. This policy locks in sometimes questionable and unproven HCP conservation strategies as well as development rights for 1 to 100 years, and has been sharply criticized by the scientific community as being inconsistent with the recovery of endangered species.

Defenders' biologist Laura Hood explains, "The `No Surprises' policy has been utilized in a manner that will preclude future conservation and recovery options for many species. As these scientists indicate in their paper, this policy is contrary to basic principles of sound science because it ignores the fact that biological systems are, by their very nature, unpredictable and full of surprises."

The recommendations made by the scientists address policies that have all recently been proposed in legislation to reauthorize the ESA, and that relate to the conservation of endangered species on private lands.

As the scientists make clear, "The current proposed private lands amendments to the Endangered Species Act will not further the Act's goals unless those measures are implemented in a scientifically sound manner."

Schlickeisen remarked, "These biologists have provided sound scientific recommendations for bringing these policies into compliance with the goals of the ESA. The next step is for the federal government to begin implementing and enforcing these recommendations, and to incorporate them in legislation reauthorizing the ESA."

Most recommendations offered by the scientists are embodied in the proposed Endangered Natural Heritage Act. This draft legislation to reauthorize the ESA was developed by the Endangered Species Coalition, a group of more than 200 national, regional, and local environmental groups, including Defenders of wildlife.

In a separate but related matter, Reed Noss, Michael Soule and Gary Meffe also sent a letter to President Clinton expressing additional concerns with the Administration's enforcement and implementation of the ESA. The scientists wrote, "Despite its successes, effectiveness of the ESA has been hampered by an apparent reluctance of the federal government to enforce and properly implement the law." They cited the failure of the federal government to list species in need of protection or designate critical habitat and develop recovery plans for the majority of listed species as particularly troublesome.

The scientists involved are Peter Brussard of the University of Nevada, Reno, Gary Meffe of the Savannah River Ecology Laboratory, Dennis Murphy of Stanford University, Barry Noon of the U.S. Forest Service, Reed Noss of Oregon State University, James Quinn of the University of California, Davis, Katherine Ralls of the Smithsonian Institution, Michael Soule of the University of California, Santa Cruz, and Richard Tracy of the University of Nevada, Reno.

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Contact(s):

Cat Lazaroff, (202) 772-3270

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