[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
By FELICITY BARRINGER
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
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
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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