Remember Julie MacDonald, the Department of Interior appointee with industry connections but no biology degree, who altered scientific field reports to minimize protections for endangered species? There are plenty of wildlife scientists who haven’t forgotten about her or about the larger problem of the Bush administration meddling with environmental science, and two dozen of them descended on Capitol Hill last weekend to make their concerns known. The Washington Post’s Elizabeth Williamson explains:
Organized by the Union of Concerned Scientists and the Endangered Species Coalition, the rumpled researchers won time in the offices of more than 20 lawmakers. They are protesting what Francesca Grifo, director of the Scientific Integrity Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists in Washington, calls “the systematic dismantling of the Endangered Species Act through the manipulation and suppression of science.”
On a dash from the House to the Senate, Grifo said the group wants hearings and better congressional oversight of the Interior Department, where Bush appointees control the fate of threatened and endangered species.
Williamson reports that many of the scientists who visited the Hill were “new to Washington ways”; here are reactions from two of them:
Kim Nelson, a research wildlife biologist based in Corvallis, Ore., is more at home in the woodsy habitat of the marbled murrelet than in the marbled lair of the gray-thatched speechmaker. The murrelet is a small seabird that flies inland to lay its single egg on the moss-covered branches of large trees also coveted by loggers. That habitat, Nelson says, could be all but wiped out by Interior.
“I had no idea just how complicated it is that each congressman or committee has their charge, and they can’t overstep their charge unless some colleague comes in and asks them to,” Nelson said. …
Stuart Pimm, professor of conservation ecology at Duke University and a 30-year veteran of renowned environmental battles, says he is fed up. He has worked for two decades on Everglades conservation and says that under this administration, he is seeing his habitat preservation suggestions steamrolled, as it were.
“In the past, scientists have written their reports, said, ‘This is what the science is,’ and the policymakers made their decisions from it,” he said. Now, he said, “decisions that come out of Fish and Wildlife ignore the science and fabricate evidence in the crudest, most unsophisticated way.”
According to an Interior Department spokesman, Deputy Secretary Lynn Scarlett met with the scientists for two hours and is “committed to maintaining the integrity of endangered species decisions.” Scarlett had career officials review hundreds of agency decisions for signs of inappropriate influence, and reported that eight were found that might warrant revision. Jon Hunter, policy director of the Endangered Species Coalition, says there are at least 50 different species decisions that were driven too much by political decisions and ought to be revised. The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee is planning a hearing on the issue some time soon, although their spokesman warned that in an election year, it’s hard to get things done.