Photo: Gary Peeples/USFWS

Conferences and Condors: UCS Unveils a New Toolkit for Scientists Engaging on the Endangered Species Act

, researcher, Center for Science & Democracy | August 4, 2017, 12:23 pm EDT
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Hundreds of ecologists will flock to the west coast next week as the Ecological Society of America’s annual meeting convenes in Portland, Oregon. I will be speaking there, armed with our newly released guide, Advancing Science in the Endangered Species Act: A Toolkit for Scientists.

The toolkit provides a concise but thorough rundown of the Act, the threats to it, and the most effective ways scientists can leverage their expertise to help inform endangered species decisions, advocate for science-based decision making, and collaborate with other endangered species advocates. As the barrage of attacks on the law show no signs of slowing, there are ample opportunities for scientists to act.

Despite its overall success, we have already seen several attempts to weaken the Endangered Species Act this year alone, with calls to undermine the science-based process by allowing for economic considerations in the listing process, blocking gray wolf protections in the Midwest, and prioritizing information provided by states, tribes, and counties as “best available science”—regardless of the actual merit of the information given (see our letter of opposition here). We will likely see more, if the fervor of overall political attacks on science under the current administration to date is any indication.

A California condor flies over the Bitter Creek National Wildlife Refuge (USFWS). Condor recovery efforts have helped increase the population of California condors from 23 in 1982 to 435 as of 2015.

What’s in the toolkit

The toolkit comprises four sections:

  • Understanding the Endangered Species Act
  • Threats to science-based endangered species policy
  • Leveraging your voice as a scientist
  • Additional resources

You will get a concise but thorough rundown that details the Act’s provisions and explains how the law works in practice. You’ll learn about the core components of the Act, the criteria for listing, the listing process, and who plays a role in species protection, as well as the risks to the Act from political interference, suggestions for ways to push back, and a variety of ways scientists can help protect species at risk. And of course, you will have an arsenal of resources to guide you, because no toolkit is complete without a good list of information sources and potential partner organizations.

Scientists: You can make a difference

More than 800 scientists have now signed on to a letter asking Congress to reject efforts to gut the science-based law, building on a long tradition of scientists standing up to attacks on the Endangered Species Act (sign on to current letter here, read past letters here).

And this mobilization of the science community is crucial right now. This stuff matters. Restricting the use of science in the Endangered Species Act or making the law vulnerable to political interference, as has been the case with some recent legislative proposals, would lead to otherwise preventable species extinctions and the destruction of habitat that is essential to environmental health.

It is important to remember that, although the Endangered Species Act was politically contentious even under the Obama administration, the greatest, most salient difference is: we are now living in a post-truth America, where decisions are being made without the support of credible scientific evidence.  The entire process is under attack.

But this time, we are prepared to stand up for science and biodiversity—toolkits in hand.

To my fellow ESA attendees—if you are ready to jump in feet first and put the toolkit to use, sign up for our lunchtime Endangered Species Act Advocacy Workshop on August 9 (lunch included!), where we will walk participants through developing an action plan for advocating for independent science informing the law. If you’re a little shy or just need a bit more convincing, come to our Monday afternoon session “The Endangered Species Act Under Attack: Opportunities for Independent Science”. I’ll be debuting the toolkit in my talk there. See you next week!


USFWS Pacific Southwest

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