Washington, DC —Three of the nation’s top wolf experts have been excluded from the scientific peer review of the plan to remove federal protections from the gray wolf on orders from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS). The scientists were barred because they had signed a letter with 13 other scientists expressing concern about the scientific basis for the federal plan, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
The federal wolf de-listing plan is the subject of an accelerated peer review conducted by a private consultant firm, AMEC, chosen by FWS. Although the peer review is supposed to be independent of FWS, the agency controls selection of the reviewers engaged by the contractor.
FWS exercised that control in blocking at least three of the seven names on AMEC's list of reviewers chosen for their qualifications: Dr. Roland Kays of North Carolina State University, Dr. Jon Vucetich of Michigan Technological University and Dr. Robert Wayne of the University of California, Los Angeles. All have published extensively on the wolf and are considered preeminent experts.
In an August 7th email to one of the scientists, an AMEC official stated that the FWS had vetoed his participation in the peer review even though the firm had already selected him for his qualifications:
“I apologize for telling you that you were on the project and then having to give you this news. I understand how frustrating it must be, but we have to go with what the service [sic] wants.”
While the FWS claims that it seeks an “unbiased” review panel, given that this issue has received much discussion in both the media and scientific journals over the past decade the agency’s posture results in the exclusion of almost all qualified wolf scientists. This may leave the panel with only those experts who have never opined publicly on the issue, either because they favor delisting or they feel it inappropriate to comment on such proposals due to income from federal contracts.
“To avoid dealing with the serious scientific concerns raised by its delisting plan, the Fish & Wildlife Service is packing the review panel for its own proposal,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. “Selecting your own reviewers defeats the purpose of independent peer review.”
The May 21st letter signed by the 16 prominent wolf researchers presented a number of serious scientific concerns with the gray wolf delisting plan as well as lack of designated habitat for the highly endangered Mexican wolf. The letter was submitted as a public comment to which the Service has yet to respond, although this week’s action suggests it was read.
The FWS disqualification of scientists appears at odds with White House Office of Management & Budget guidance which states that selection of peer reviewers should be primarily driven by expertise of the reviewer, followed by a need for balance to reflect competing scientific viewpoints followed by their independence from the agency.
The AMEC wolf peer review is slated to be completed by September 11th but the peer reviewers will not be provided with the public comments containing issues raised by scientific experts.
“Steamrolling a fast-track scientific review on a matter of this controversy underlines that it is politics not science driving the decision-making,” Ruch added. “If it wants to maintain any credibility, the Fish & Wildlife Service should openly address and resolve the array of serious scientific criticisms which have been leveled. This peer review charade will only lead to more litigation which could have been avoided.”