Ronald Nowak, a national-level Fish and Wildlife Service zoologist, has resigned from his position in protest, claiming the agency has "fought tooth and nail to avoid doing its job" of protecting the Canada lynx and other sensitive species.
Nowak calls the lynx - a cousin of the
bobcat - -one of the most blatant examples of how the Department of
the Interior has worked against the intent of the Endangered
Species Act." The agency's administration rejected a recommendation
for listing that had been approved by its own biologists at all
levels, he says. A federal judge ordered Fish and Wildlife to list
the lynx, but the agency has delayed final listing for another year
Nowak is not the only agency
scientist dissatisfied with the listing process, says Jeff Ruch,
executive director of the nonprofit group PEER (Public Employees
for Environmental Responsibility). "When these biologists who have
dedicated their career to protecting a particular species find that
protective measures aren't moving forward for nonscientific
reasons, they just give up," says Ruch. "There's no reason for them
to remain with the agency."
A recent report by
PEER argues that controversial species such as the lynx - whose
listing might interfere with resort development in the Colorado
Rockies - have been denied protection for political, not
biological, reasons. "There's a deliberate effort to soft-pedal or
delay listings that would cause political blowback," says Ruch.
"The agency has decided that the only way to save the act is not to
implement it." Despite Fish and Wildlife Service claims that
inadequate funding has prevented listing of these controversial
species, says the report, the agency has spent millions of dollars
fighting lawsuits brought by environmental
Fish and Wildlife Service spokeswoman
Cindy Hoffman responds, "We can't base our priorities on who sues
us first." More species have been protected during the Clinton
administration than during any other administration, she says.
"Pulling up case studies isn't really appropriate. When you look at
the numbers (of species listed), it looks to me like we're doing
Nowak remains unconvinced. "It's a
good act," he says, "and the listing process is reasonable, but
people (within the agency) are interfering with the implementation
of the law."
For a copy of the PEER report, War
of Attrition: Sabotage of the Endangered Species Act by the U.S.
Department of the Interior, call 202/265-7337, or write to PEER,
2001 S Street NW, Suite 570, Washington, D.C. 20009-1125 or send
e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
* Michelle Nijhuis, HCN