If scientists have learned anything new about the genetics of rare species in the past three decades, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service may not want to hear about it.
January, H. Dale Hall, the Service’s Region 2 director,
released a new policy for developing recovery plans for rare
species: Scientists are to use only the genetic information
available at the time a species was first protected under the
Endangered Species Act. To make use of new genetic data, writes
Hall, would be "inappropriate and inconsistent" with the law.
Hall’s decision is based on a 2001 federal court
ruling by Judge Michael Hogan that wild coho salmon are not
genetically distinct from hatchery coho salmon. In response, NOAA
Fisheries, the agency charged with protection of the fish, removed
Oregon’s coastal coho from the endangered species list (HCN,
10/8/01: Coho salmon lose federal protection).
everyone agrees with the new policy: In a March 11 letter to Hall,
Ralph Morgenweck, the Service’s Region 6 director, expressed
concern that the new policy "could run counter to the purpose of
the Endangered Species Act" and "may contradict our direction to
use the best available science."
Jeff Curtis, Western
conservation director for Trout Unlimited in Portland, says of
Hogan’s coho decision: "What we have found is that people use
Hogan to justify doing things that Hogan doesn’t require." He
adds, "Rather than using the bureaucracy to expand (its) areas of
discretion to protect endangered species, (the Service is) trying
to limit (its) areas of discretion."
This isn’t the
first time Hall’s office has limited its own ability to
protect endangered species: In 2003, after a federal court ruled
the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation had "discretion" to release water in
the Middle Rio Grande for the endangered silvery minnow, the
Service reversed its earlier stance and backed the Bureau’s
decision to let the river run dry (HCN, 8/4/03: Truce remains
elusive in Rio Grande water fight).