ALBUQUERQUE — Despite pledging to shield environmental science from political manipulation, the Obama administration is injecting politics to alter key scientific findings on what is required to revive the struggling Mexican wolf in the Southwest, according to a scientific integrity complaint filed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). As a result, one of the nation’s highest profile Endangered Species Act recovery efforts is severely compromised.
The Mexican wolf is one of the most endangered mammals in North America. The sole wild population of Mexican wolves grew from 4 individuals in 1998 to 55 in 2003, at which time more aggressive removal was instituted. Since then, the population has plateaued, remaining below 60 wolves through 2011.
In 2010, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) concluded that the Mexican wolf “is not thriving” due to lack of an up-to-date management plan, illegal shooting; and genetic inbreeding. The cumulative impacts of these factors “threaten the population with failure.” The agency then convened eight experts to serve on a special Science and Planning Subgroup of the Mexican Wolf Recovery Team.
Through the next two years, this scientific subgroup unanimously concluded that Mexican wolf recovery required three populations of 200-350 wolves connected by corridors. They also found the best suitable habitat for reintroduction included southern Colorado and southern Utah. The political pushback within the FWS and from affected states against these scientific findings has been unrelenting, including –
- Pressure to lower the number of wolves needed or jettison a numeric threshold altogether, as in this FWS email to the scientists (“he” refers to the Southwest Regional Director):
“You should not feel undo [sic] pressure at this point to accommodate, per se, but you should recognize that this is his way of telling you (at least at this point) what information he would like to see.”
- Demands to exclude Utah and other states from suitable habitat; and
- Attempts to prevent the science subgroup from issuing final Mexican wolf recovery criteria.
“The science on Mexican wolf recovery has become a political football,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, who filed the scientific misconduct complaint today against federal and state officials. “The time for political negotiation comes after the scientific work is done. In this instance, Obama officials are attempting to improperly pre-negotiate the science to accommodate political partners.”
Under Department of Interior rules, the PEER complaint is supposed to trigger an independent scientific review with findings and potential discipline for responsible officials. Since these policies have been in effect, however, there have been several complaints but no reported findings of scientific misconduct.
“The Obama administration is skewing scientific work for political purposes in precisely the same way they accused Bush appointees of doing,” Ruch added. “Publicly exposing these behind-the-scenes manipulations may be the best way to end them.”