[Paleopsych] NYT: New Rule on Endangered Species in the Southwest

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Wed May 25 00:46:27 UTC 2005

New Rule on Endangered Species in the Southwest


    WASHINGTON, May 23 - The southwestern regional director of the United
    States Fish and Wildlife Service has instructed members of his staff
    to limit their use of the latest scientific studies on the genetics of
    endangered plants and animals when deciding how best to preserve and
    recover them.

    At issue is what happens once a fish, animal, plant or bird is
    included on the federal endangered species list as being in danger of
    extinction and needing protection.

    Dale Hall, the director of the southwestern region, in a memorandum
    dated Jan. 27, said that all decisions about how to return a species
    to robust viability must use only the genetic science in place at the
    time it was put on the endangered species list - in some cases the
    1970's or earlier - even if there have been scientific advances in
    understanding the genetic makeup of a species and its subgroups in the
    ensuing years.

    His instructions can spare states in his region the expense of
    extensive recovery efforts. Arizona officials responsible for the
    recovery of Apache trout, for example, argue that the money - $2
    million to $3 million in the past five years - spent on ensuring the
    survival of each genetic subgroup of the trout was misdirected, since
    the species as a whole was on its way to recovery.

    In his memorandum, Mr. Hall built upon a federal court ruling
    involving Oregon Coast coho salmon. The judge in that case said that
    because there was no basic genetic distinction between hatchery fish
    and their wild cousins, both had to be counted when making a
    determination that the fish was endangered.

    In the policy discussion attached to his memorandum, Mr. Hall wrote,
    "genetic differences must be addressed" when a species is declared
    endangered. Thereafter, he said, "there can be no further subdivision
    of the entity because of genetics or any other factor" unless the
    government goes through the time-consuming process of listing the
    subspecies as a separate endangered species.

    The regional office, in Albuquerque, covers Arizona, Oklahoma, New
    Mexico and Texas.

    Mr. Hall's memorandum prompted dissent within the agency. Six weeks
    later, his counterpart at the mountain-prairie regional office, in
    Denver, sent a sharp rebuttal to Mr. Hall.

    "Knowing if populations are genetically isolated or where gene flow is
    restricted can assist us in identifying recovery units that will
    ensure that a species will persist over time," the regional director,
    Ralph O. Morgenweck, wrote. "It can also ensure that unique
    adaptations that may be essential for future survival continue to be
    maintained in the species."

    Mr. Hall's policy, he wrote, "could run counter to the purpose of the
    Endangered Species Act" and "may contradict our direction to use the
    best available science in endangered species decisions in some cases."

    One retired biologist for the southwestern office, Sally Stefferud,
    suggested in a telephone interview that the issue went beyond the
    question of whether to consider modern genetics.

    "That's a major issue, of course," Ms. Stefferud said. "But I think
    there's more behind it. It's a move to make it easier" to take away a
    species's endangered status, she said. That would make it easier for
    officials to approve actions - like construction, logging or
    commercial fishing - that could reduce a species's number.

    Mr. Hall was on vacation and not available for comment Monday. Mr.
    Morgenweck could not be reached late Monday afternoon, but his
    assistant confirmed he had sent the rebuttal.

    The memorandums were provided by the Center for Biological Diversity
    and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, two groups that
    opposed Mr. Hall's policy. They said that species whose recovery could
    be impeded by the policy included the Gila trout and the Apache trout.

    Mr. Hall's ruling fits squarely into the theory advanced by the
    Pacific Legal Foundation, a property-rights group in California, that
    endangered species be considered as one genetic unit for purposes of
    being put on the endangered species list and in subsequent management

    In an e-mail message on Monday, Russ Brooks, the lawyer who worked on
    the Oregon case for the foundation, wrote, "Having read the memo, I
    can say that I agree with it."

    Bruce Taubert, the assistant director for wildlife management at the
    Arizona Game and Fish Department, said of the new policy, "We support
    it," adding, in the case of the endangered Apache trout, "Why should
    we spend an incredible amount of time and money to do something with
    that species if it doesn't add to the viability and longevity of the
    species that was listed?"

    "By not having to worry about small genetic pools, we can do these
    things faster and better," Mr. Taubert said.

    But Philip Hedrick, a professor of population genetics at Arizona
    State University, said that it made no sense to ignore scientific
    advances in his field. "Genetics and evolutionary thinking have to be
    incorporated if we're going to talk about long-term sustainability of
    these species," he said. "Maybe in the short term you can have a few
    animals closely related and inbred out there, but for them to survive
    in any long-term sense you have to think about this long-term picture
    that conservation biologists have come up with over the last 25

    Professor Hedrick added that cutting off new genetic findings that
    fell short of providing evidence that a separate species had evolved
    was "completely inappropriate, because as everyone knows, we're able
    to know a lot more than we did five years ago."

    He added, "They talk about using the best science, but that's clearly
    not what they're trying to do here."

    In a telephone interview from the Albuquerque fish and wildlife
    office, Larry Bell, a spokesman, said that Mr. Hall's interpretation
    meant that "the only thing that we have to consider in recovery is:
    does the species exist?"

    "We don't have to consider whether various adaptive portions of a
    species exist," he said.

    Asked about why an Oregon ruling would have an impact on policies in
    the southwest, he said: "My belief is that because it's the only court
    decision that addresses the issue of genetics. While we're not within
    this region bound by the Oregon decision per se, it would provide

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