WASHINGTON, Dec. 7, 2017— The Center for Biological Diversity today filed a notice of intent to sue the Trump administration over a new policy allowing state representatives with no scientific background to be included in endangered species determinations.
“Species status assessment” teams were originally intended to be groups of scientists tasked by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to, among other things, determine if species need protection under the Endangered Species Act. But this new policy calls for those teams to include representatives from states’ governors’ offices, regardless of whether they have any scientific expertise.
The policy is detailed in a memorandum that was leaked to the press this week and dated Oct. 13. It specifies that each team will have two state representatives, one from a state fish and wildlife agency and one from the governor’s office.
“Scientists, not political appointees, should determine which wildlife get protected under the Endangered Species Act,” said Ryan Shannon, a staff attorney at the Center. “This policy is clearly designed to interject politics into what’s supposed to be a strictly scientific determination, a move that’s all too typical in Trump’s war on science.”
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The policy likely gives veto power over protection of endangered species to governors’ offices, which in a number of states are hostile to endangered species. For species that occur in multiple states, the policy could easily create a situation where potentially biased state representatives outnumber scientists on the species status assessment teams.
The new policy will also greatly slow the decision-making process. The Fish and Wildlife Service already faces a backlog of more than 500 species awaiting protection and has fallen behind on a workplan developed under the Obama administration. The Trump administration has denied protection to 31 species, including the Pacific walrus, black-backed woodpecker, Florida Keys mole skink and Northern Rocky Mountains fisher.
Issued by a political appointee never confirmed by the Senate, the Oct. 13 policy was produced without public notice or the opportunity for comment.
“This is another unlawful example of the Trump administration working behind closed doors to weaken environmental protections,” said Shannon. “Thankfully, the law requires policies such as this to be exposed to the light of public scrutiny.”