How Science Influences Endangered Species Act Decisions

Jan 20, 2016

The Western Governors’ Association held a meeting in Boise Tuesday about the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The nonpartisan group brought together stakeholders from all ends of the natural resources spectrum.

One of the big topics at the day-long workshop was how science is used – or could be misused – to make endangered species decisions. Richard Valdez was a panelist at the conference. He is an adviser for an environmental planning firm based in Arizona.

“Federal agencies cannot arbitrarily say, ‘This is what we want to use as best science because it fulfills our needs or meets our agenda,’" says Valdez. "It has to be an objective approach at the best available scientific information.”

The ESA – which was passed in 1973 – stipulated that a species could only be put on the list after consulting the “best available science.” Research from universities and state biologists is weighed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

But this part of the law is not as benign as it may seem. People have critiqued the science used in some decisions as being swayed by special interests. Valdez says to some people, peer-reviewed science is the only kind that should be considered.

Idaho Fish and Game director Virgil Moore told those attending the meeting the best science comes from the state biologists working with a species day after day.   

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