The U.S. House Natural Resources Committee Tuesday released a report questioning the impartiality and accountability of the peer review process in recent Endangered Species Act listing decisions issued by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, which is the primary agency with authority over ESA designations.
The Committee report analyzes 13 different ESA listing decisions made since July 2013, including related Federal Register notices, peer reviewer comments, and other publicly available materials, and found numerous examples of potential bias and conflicts of interests with regard to the agency’s peer review process.
The ESA peer review process is designed for federal agencies to make formal solicitations of expert opinions and analyses on one or more specific questions or assumptions being used to justify a listing designation. The Committee report found that frequent FWS recruits for peer review roles are the same scientists that supplied the research at hand, rather than independent experts without any obvious connection to the species under review.
“This report reinforces existing concerns over the lack of transparency and questionable processes used by the federal government to develop listing designations under the Endangered Species Act,” stated Rep. Glenn Thompson (R-PA), a member of the Natural Resources Committee. “A case in point, is the northern long-eared bat, where the agency has moved forward with the listing proposal despite broad disagreement over the science and peer review protocols used to support the designation.”
In October 2013, the FWS proposed to list the northern long-eared bat (NLEB) as an endangered species throughout its range, citing the effects of White-Nose Syndrome as the lone basis for the designation.
Although the disease is impacting the species in areas of 38-states, the FWS has admitted that “even if all habitat-related stressors were eliminated” through an endangered listing “the significant effects of the White-Nose Syndrome on the northern long-eared bat would still be present.”
In May 2014, Rep. Thompson, joined by eight members of the Pennsylvania delegation, sent a letter to the FWS urging the agency to rescind the NLEB proposal, citing insufficient scientific data to support this decision.
Since that time, the FWS has extended the public comment period due to substantial disagreement over the scientific data used to support the listing.
The final decision over whether or not to list the NLEB as endangered, which would have adverse economic impacts on a range of economic sectors in subjected states, is due in April 2015.
“It is my hope the Fish and Wildlife Service addresses these failures before moving forward with an ill-considered endangered listing that will have dramatic consequences for Pennsylvania’s economy without addressing the underlying disease impacting the northern long eared bat,” Rep. Thompson added.
The report also found, among other concerns, that FWS does not consistently disclose to the American public information about who serves as peer reviewers for ESA listing decisions, the instructions they are given, the substance of their comments, or how their comments are addressed by the agency.The full report is available online.