Washington, DC — The plan to remove federal protections from the gray wolf will be peer reviewed on an accelerated schedule by a private consulting firm selected this week, according to a document posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The exercise is designed to help the plan to delist the gray wolf under the federal Endangered Species Act withstand expected legal challenges.
The contract Order Statement of Work (SOW), issued June 25, 2013, calls for “a formal, external, independent scientific peer review before a final determination is made” to end safeguards for remaining gray wolf populations. Yet the specifics of the SOW raise questions as to its independence:
- The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) controls selection of reviewers by picking from a list compiled by the contractor. The ultimate number of reviewers will be left to FWS “discretion”;
- Expert reviewers are disqualified if they have “an affiliation with an advocacy position regarding the protection of this species.” This standard bars every scientist who has ever opined about wolf recovery, leaving only those who may not be knowledgeable enough to venture an opinion; and
- Reviewers are directed “not to provide advice on policy” questions and limit themselves to the quality of the information cited by FWS.
“This quickie, consultant-led peer review gives the illusion of impartiality from the bankrolling agency which can easily manipulate its results,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. “If the Fish & Wildlife Service wanted a truly independent peer review on a topic of this magnitude it would have invited one of the scientific societies to conduct it, free from agency restrictions.”
The peer reviews must be completed by September 11th, the date on which the public comment period for the proposed delisting ends. Since the peer reviewers will not be provided with the public comments, many of which may arrive on the scheduled peer review completion date, the peer review will not examine, let alone respond to, criticisms levels by scientific experts. Nor has FWS responded to a May 21st letter from 16 of the nation’s top wolf experts expressing “deep concerns” about its delisting proposal.
Significantly, the Service is seeking peer review only after its delisting plan was formally unveiled in the Federal Register on an apparent fast-track to finalization. Further, in the unlikely event that the peer reviewers pan the delisting plan, FWS is not obligated to withdraw or alter its plan to answer criticisms.
“Contrary to the fiction that its plan is science-driven, the Service’s proposed final rule matches the political promises made to state game agencies and mirrors the negotiated preferred outcome,” added Ruch, pointing to records from “Structured Decision Making” meetings between the Service and state game agencies, which PEER obtained from a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit. “The Service hopes to deodorize this day-old fish by wrapping it in new consultant reviews.”