Friday, March 10, 2006
The biologists letter to Congress is available on the Union of Concerned Scientists web site. UCS Site - Biologists Letter on ESA The site also has a copy with the full list of signers, but be careful, it is a 150 page PDF file because of the number of signers. That full file is available here. Biologists ESA Letter full list of signers.pdf You can also click on a map to get a list of signers from your region.
WHAT THEY SAID:
A Letter from Biologists to the United States Senate
We are writing as biologists with expertise in a variety of scientific disciplines that concern
biological diversity and the loss of species. With the Senate considering policies that could have
long-lasting impacts on this nation's species diversity, we ask that you take into account scientific
principles that are crucial to species conservation. Biological diversity provides food, fiber,
medicines, clean water, and myriad other ecosystem products and services on which we depend
every day. If we look only at well-studied species groups, nearly one-third of native species in the
United States are at risk of disappearing.¹ Extinction is truly irreversible - once gone, individual
species and all of the services that they provide us cannot be brought back.
On December 8, 1973, President Richard Nixon signed the Endangered Species Act ("ESA") with
the goal of conserving endangered and threatened species and the ecosystems on which they depend.
For species that have been listed and provided protection under the ESA, much of that purpose
has been achieved. According to an article in the September 30, 2005, edition of Science,
less than one percent of listed species have gone extinct since 1973, while 10 percent of candidate
species still waiting to be listed have suffered that fate. In addition to the hundreds of species that
the Act has protected from extinction, listing has contributed to population increases or the
stabilization of populations for at least 35 percent of listed species, and perhaps significantly more,
as well as the recovery of such signature species as the peregrine falcon. While complete recovery
has been realized for just two percent of species listed, given the precarious state of most species
when listed, this represents significant progress.
One of the great strengths of the Endangered Species Act is its foundation in sound scientific
principles and its reliance on the best available science.² Unfortunately, recent legislative proposals
would critically weaken this foundation. For species conservation to continue, it is imperative both
that the scientific principles embodied in the Act are maintained, and that the Act is strengthened,
fully implemented, and adequately funded.
distinct population segments as endangered or threatened under the Act. While non-scientific factors
may appropriately be considered at points later in the process of protecting species, their use
in listing decisions is inconsistent with biologically defensible principles. Due to the fragile state
of many of those species that require the Act's protections, the listing process needs to proceed
as promptly as possible; otherwise, species will go extinct while waiting to be listed.
needs for its survival; habitat loss and degradation are the principal reasons for the decline of
most species at risk. Habitat protection is essential if species are to be conserved and
the goals of the ESA are to be met. The relationship between species, their habitats,
and the threats they face can be exceedingly complex. Therefore, the chances of species recovery
are maximized when habitat protection is based on sound scientific principles, and
when the determinations of the biological needs of at-risk species are scientifically well informed.
The obligation for federal agencies to consult with the appropriate wildlife agency and its biologists
when federal actions could affect habitat for listed species is an indispensable provision in the ESA.
It provides the means for science to inform decisions about the habitat-dependent
survival and recovery of species at-risk. The designation of critical habitat places
further obligations on the Federal government to, among other things, protect the habitat
essential to species recovery. It is far more effective, far easier, and far less expensive to
protect functioning natural habitats than it is to recreate them once they are gone.
and has been flexible enough over time to accommodate evolving scientific information
and practice. Failure to keep the ESA open to the use of scientific information from the
best available research and monitoring, and to rely on impartial scientific experts, will
contribute to delays in species recovery and to species declines and extinctions. Critical
scientific information should not only include current empirical data, but also, for example,
historic habitat and population information, population surveys, habitat and population modeling,
and taxonomic and genetic studies. Use of scientific knowledge should not be hampered
by administrative requirements that overburden or slow the Act's implementation,
or by limiting consideration of certain types of scientific information.
and are responsive to new information. Recovery plans must be based on the
best possible information about the specific biology of each species, must identify threats
to each species and address what is needed to mitigate those threats,
and must predict how species are likely to respond to mitigation measures that may be adopted.
To be most effective, recovery plans need to incorporate scientific principles
of adaptive management, so they can be updated as new information on species
and their habitats becomes available. Changes to the ESA that would delay completion
of recovery plans, or provide for inflexible recovery goals that cannot be informed
by new or additional scientific knowledge, should be avoided.
Scientific Advances and New Issues
their uses of habitats, and threats to those resources since the ESA was first passed into law.
Serious, new, and as yet insufficiently addressed issues, such as global warming
and invasive species, have emerged as primary environmental concerns that affect the fate
of our native species diversity. We urge Congress to initiate thorough studies to consider
the foremost problems that drive species toward extinction.
Losing species means losing the potential to solve some of humanity's most intractable problems,
including hunger and disease. The Endangered Species Act is more than just a law -
it is the ultimate safety net in our life support system. As Earth has changed and as science
has progressed since the Endangered Species Act was authorized in 1973, the ESA has served
our nation well, largely because of its flexibility and its solid foundation in science. It is crucial
to maintain these fundamental principles. The challenges of effective implementation of the Act
should not be interpreted to require substantive rewriting of this valuable, well-functioning piece
Thank you very much for taking our concerns into account. We are available to discuss any
and all of the issues we have raised.
¹From NatureServe, an international network of scientists cataloguing biological diversity.