WASHINGTON, Dec. 16, 2014 – Republicans on the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee have released a report that they say raises questions about the peer review process in recent Endangered Species Act (ESA) listing decisions issued by the Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS).
The report reviews13 different ESA listing decisions made since July 2013, including related Federal Register notices, peer reviewer comments and other publicly available materials, and claims to have found numerous examples of potential bias and conflicts of interests with regard to the agency’s peer review process. The decisions involved species including the White Bluffs Bladderpod, the Gierisch Mallow, the New Mexico Jumping Frog and the Diamond Darter.
According to the report, FWS recruits for peer review roles are often 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,” committee member Glenn Thompson said in a news release. The Pennsylvania Republican pointed to the northern long-eared bat, as a case in point. He said FWS has moved forward with a listing proposal for the bat despite broad disagreement over the science and peer review protocols used to support the designation.
In an e-mailed statement, the FWS defended its use of the peer review process.
“Independent peer review is an important part of any scientific endeavor, and for that reason, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service developed a policy in 1994 to solicit independent peer review of proposed listing determinations,” FWS said in the e-mail. “Our peer review process is fully compliant with the Information Quality Guidelines established by OMB. We look forward to continuing to work with the Committee to discuss this important aspect of our conservation mission under the Endangered Species Act.”
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, a fatal disease among bats caused by a fungus found in caves, 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, Thompson and eight other members of the Pennsylvania congressional delegation sent a letter to the FWS urging the agency to withdraw the NLEB proposal, citing insufficient scientific data to support its decision. Since then, FWS has extended the public comment period due to disagreement over the scientific data used to support the listing, according to Thompson’s release.
Thompson noted that 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,” Thompson said.
The report also said 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.
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