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 Manipulation of Science Regarding The Endangered Species Act


The California Condor, Gymnogyps californianus, is endangered in most of the U.S.

A wide array of scientists, government officials, and environmental groups has charged that the Bush administration is engaged in a systematic attempt to weaken the Endangered Species Act.62 The administration has supported pending amendments before Congress that would make it harder to list threatened species63 and has fought in court to set aside the use of population modeling64—the most credible technique for assessing the likelihood that a small species population will survive in a given habitat. In addition, the number of new species listed as threatened or endangered has dropped to an unprecedented new low during the tenure of the current administration. According to one systematic review, the current administration has listed only 25 species since 2001—all under court order.65

Perhaps most troubling, however, has been the way in which the Bush administration has suppressed or even attempted to distort the scientific findings of its own agencies to further its political agenda. These actions go well beyond a policy fight over the Endangered Species Act and represent a manipulation of the scientific underpinnings of the policy-making process itself.

 Missouri River


Early morning view of the Missouri River near Atchison, Kansas, 1974.

The management of the Missouri River, the nation’s longest, has long been a contentious issue. To be able to navigate the river and get grain to market, farmers and barge owners want the river’s flow to be uniform in the spring, summer, and fall. Conservationists and others concerned about the health of the river’s ecosystem favor a more natural management scheme in which the water fluctuates with the seasons, thereby aiding the spawning of fish and nesting of birds. In late 2000, a group of scientists that had been studying the river flow issued its final biological opinion on the matter, which was to take effect in 2003. This team had already issued preliminary findings that favored seasonal fluctuations in river flow, based on more than 10 years of scientific research. Such a river management system, they contended, would comply with the Endangered Species Act by helping to protect two threatened bird species and one endangered fish species.66 The findings of this team had been confirmed by independent peer review as well as by the National Academy of Sciences.67 At this point, however, the Bush administration intervened by creating a new team to revise the earlier biological opinion. Underscoring the heavyhanded nature of the move, Craig Manson, assistant interior secretary for fish, wildlife and parks, in a memo authorizing the replacement, even went so far as to describe the new group as “a SWAT team” that would review the situation and reach a swift judgment on the matter.68 Allyn Sapa, a recently retired biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service who supervised the Missouri River project for more than five years, stated, “It’s hard not to think that because our findings don’t match up with what they want to hear, they are putting a new team on the job who will give them what they want.”69

62 For one detailed report, see Defenders of Wildlife, “Sabotaging the Endangered Species Act,” December 3, 2003.

63 Proposed legislation includes H.R. 1662, Sound Science for Endangered Species Act Planning Act of 2003. For instance, see E. Buck, M.L. Corn, and P. Baldwin, “Endangered Species: Diffi cult Choices,” CRS Issue Brief for Congress, Congressional Research Service, May 20, 2003.

64 B. Mason, “Ecologists attack endangered species logjam,” Nature, December 11, 2003.

65 Defenders of Wildlife, “Sabotaging the Endangered Species Act,” December 3, 2003. In contrast to the current administration, the Clinton administration listed an average of 65 species per year and the fi rst Bush administration listed an average of 58 per year.

66 The species in question are the endangered pallid sturgeon, the endangered interior least tern, and the threatened piping plover.

67 See L. Quaid, “Bush administration yanks Missouri River scientists off project,” Associated Press, November 5, 2003.

68 Craig Manson memo to the director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, October 29, 2003.

69 As quoted in A. Griscom, “They blinded me with pseudo science: the Bush administration is jettisoning real scientists in favor of yes men,” Grist. Posted on, November 14, 2003.

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