Greater Sage-grouse among Endangered Species Decisions Undercut by Politics 

For Immediate Release: 

December 14, 2017

Contact:
Erik Molvar, Western Watersheds Project, (307) 399-7910, emolvar@westernwatersheds.oirg
Leda Huta, (202) 320-6467, lhuta@endangered.org

Greater Sage-grouse among Endangered Species Decisions Undercut by Politics 

New Report: Science Suppressed, Ignored Due to Political Pressure 

WASHINGTON, D.C. – A new report out today shows that the best available science in imperiled plant and wildlife decisions isn’t always followed, despite the requirements of the Endangered Species Act. Pressure from politically-powerful special interests often unduly influences these decisions, undermining science and wildlife conservation, according to the Endangered Species Coalition. Now, under the Trump administration, that pressure is worsening.

The report, “Suppressed: How Politics Drowned out Science for Ten Endangered Species” highlights ten imperiled fish, plant and wildlife conservation decisions over the last decade in which the science was either ignored or suppressed as a result of intense special interest lobbying and influence.

Greater sage-grouse are featured in the report because they are threatened by fossil fuel development, livestock grazing, road construction, wind farms, and transmission line projects. Greater sage-grouse require vast tracts of undeveloped sagebrush habitat to survive, and their protection is the key to protecting more than 350 other species of western plants and wildlife, from elk and pronghorns to burrowing owls and pygmy rabbits.

“Western Watersheds Project nominated the greater sage-grouse for the report because the federal sage-grouse plans used to justify the denial of Endangered Species protections were undermined by state and industry influence, resulting in loopholes and lax protections that allow incompatible commercial uses into the most sensitive habitats designated for sage-grouse conservation,” said Erik Molvar, a wildlife biologist and executive director with Western Watersheds Project. “These heavily-compromised plans are now under attack by the Trump administration, which appears hell-bent on eliminating even the shaky protections that exist today.”

The stifling of science has been widespread under the Trump Administration this past year, as it slashed science budgets at NASA, NOAA, EPA, and other agencies. The Administration has also hired industry representatives to run its agencies, pulled out of the Paris Climate Accords and deemed a scientific background unnecessary for positions that require scientific knowledge. Agency scientists have been silenced, and EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has consistently rolled back science-based rules in favor of polluters.

“Our native fish, plants and wildlife aren’t just a critically valuable part of the legacy we leave for future generations of Americans, they’re key to providing a good quality of life for all humans right now,” said Leda Huta, executive director of the Endangered Species Coalition. “But we are concerned that the prevalence of special interest, industry representatives inside the Trump Administration is intensifying the suppression of science in endangered species decisions.”

Endangered Species Protections Thwarted

Four species in the report – the wolverine, greater sage grouse, dunes sagebrush lizard and the Hermes copper butterfly – were denied protection under the Endangered Species Act, in spite of massive, historic population declines and severe threats to the species. And just last week, the Trump Administration denied listing for four more imperiled species (on top of the 29 others denied protection under the Act this past year).

Another, the North Atlantic right whale – threatened by ship strikes, fishing gear entanglement, and seismic energy exploration – would have benefited from a decision to deny six  seismic oil exploration permits. However, the Trump Administration has reversed that decision in an effort to expand drilling in the Atlantic.

Late last month, the Trump Administration finalized a recovery plan for the Mexican wolf, one of the most endangered mammals in North America. The plan ignored the scientific recommendations of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’ own Mexican Wolf Recovery Team, calling for a minimum population of only half the number of wolves that the scientists recommended.

Another rare and endangered Southwest U.S. species in the report – the ocelot – is threatened with increased habitat fragmentation as a result of President Trump’s proposed border wall. The border wall would obstruct essential migration routes, not only for the ocelot, but for an estimated 90 other imperiled species.

Two other water-dwelling species in the report were also victims of science suppression, including the pallid sturgeon and the Pacific leatherback sea turtle. One of the largest reptiles in the world, the leatherback can journey more than 10,000 miles between habitats. This past June, the Trump administration withdrew a proposed regulation on drift gillnets (used to catch swordfish) in response to persistent lobbying from the commercial fishing industry.

In 2014, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declined to list the greater sage grouse as endangered, citing an unprecedented region-wide habitat conservation effort, tied to state and federal conservation plans. However, Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke is threatening to undo even these modest, bi-partisan conservation measures. Meanwhile, sage grouse numbers have declined by 90 percent from historic levels. Protecting umbrella species like sage grouse conserves habitats on which many other species rely, like mule deer and pronghorn.

Endangered Species Coalition’s member groups nominated species for the report. A committee of distinguished scientists reviewed the nominations, and decided which species should be included in the final report. The full report, along with a slideshow and additional species information can be viewed and downloaded at http://SuppressedScience.org.  

The Endangered Species Coalition produces a “Top 10” report annually, focusing on a different theme each year. Previous years’ reports are also available on the Coalition’s website.

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