Zoologist says listing process is endangered

  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 (HCN, 11/24/97).


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 groups.


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 our job."


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 info@peer.org.


* Michelle Nijhuis, HCN intern