Washington D.C. At the federal level, there appears to be more crude, heavy-handed politics in the delisting of the gray wolf.

Three prominent scientists, experts on wolves, were just cut from the committee at the insistence of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service because they signed a letter with 13 other wolf scientists expressing concern about the scientific basis for the federal plan.

USFWS has had a hard time finding experts who have not made public statements on wolves. The actions of these three signing the critical letter seems to have reduced the pool of experts still further. The ten member committee is now down to seven experts who seem to have been silent over the many year period the controversy has raged.

According the P.E.E.R. (Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility) “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. — independent from FWS.

The federal wolf de-listing plan is under accelerated peer review. The review is being done by consulting firm, AMEC, chosen by FWS. The cuts were made over the objections of AMEC. According to P.E.E.R. one of the three scientists cut was told by AMEC, “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.”

The three now excluded scientists are 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.

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About The Author

Ralph Maughan

Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University with specialties in natural resource politics, public opinion, interest groups, political parties, voting and elections. Aside from academic publications, he is author or co-author of three hiking/backpacking guides.

58 Responses to Some Gray Wolf Peer Review Panel members axed by USFWS

  1. avatar Oliver Starr says:

    This is beyond outrageous! The USFWS has now removed the two preeminent wolf/canid genetic experts in the country from the peer review process (Wayne and Kays) along with one of the world’s most experienced hands on wolf experts?

    If anyone harbored even the smallest bit of doubt that this process had a shred of integrity, they can now give it up. The thinly veiled attempt to use taxonomy to reclassify these wolves and thus provide a reason for the delisting would likely have been thwarted by Wayne and Kays – this entire peer review process has been reduced to political theatre and the public should be every bit as infuriated by this charade as I am.

  2. avatar mikepost says:

    While I do not disagree with the premise that the fed’s know what they want out of this process, I have to agree that when you express a negative public opinion about a process before it is completed, you have in essence declared a bias and should not be part of that peer review process. Want to bitch about the process, do it afterward when you can site the issues and the impact on the outcome, but at least you would have been there to argue your positions. Do a “minority report” if you have to. Now they have no voice at all. Poor political judgement on their part. Poor outcome for the wolves…

    • avatar Ralph Maughan says:

      Mikepost,

      The thing is, there has been so much controversy over wolves for what will soon be 20 years that I have to wonder about the competence of a wolf scientist who has never made a public statement about them. Most have made statements, and USFWS is also under no legal constraint to gather a seemingly opinionless committee. As my news story said that OMB (the U.S. Office of Management and Budget) in fact said “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.”

      I think these 13 scientist who signed the letter were recruited by Dr. Bruskotter (“JB”) who often comments in this forum.

      • avatar WM says:

        I think the point is a scientist needs to pick a vocation and only one vocation – either be a scientist OR a politician. Not both. JB and I have had this conversation before on this forum, where we discussed the opportunities and pitfalls of “mixing” vocations.

        Vucetich played “advocate” AND a scientist with spin (translate that to politician rather than pure scientist) in the NRM litigation before Judge Molloy. Looks like he burned a bridge IMHO.

        One cannot expect to play with fire and not get burned. “The letter” was written to a politician in a new position (SOI Jewell) for political reasons, just like Brad Bergstrom’s (lead signatory alphabetically) political commentary disguised as science in a scientific journal http://www.cfr.washington.edu/classes.esrm.458/bergstrometal.pdf ).

        IMHO the proper time and place for “the letter” was following the announcement of, and in response to, the proposed rule change for blanket wolf delisting in the Federal Register – as a comment, just like any other member of the public with something to say. The letter would appropriately have been addressed to Dan Ashe, Director USFWS, maybe with a cc to Secretary Jewell, not the reverse.

        I think it would be a conflict of interest to have a signatory to the letter then serve as a reviewer.

        Now, in the end, whether the proposed blanket delisting meets the objective of the ESA for that species, is yet another matter, which a judge (or perhaps several judges) will decide when all appeals remedies are exhausted. Let’s be candid. This is also about tension in federal-state relations, and statutes can change, even the ESA.

    • avatar JB says:

      The letter serves the same purpose as the public comment. In fact, usually such letters are submitted as part of the public comment process. By banning anyone who takes a position, the FWS is essentially saying that if you want to review the science then you need to give up your right (as a citizen) to comment. I can tell you I’ve received emails from a dozen or so scientists both from academia and government agencies that are disgusted by this action.

      BTW: What if the shoe were on the other foot? How would you all feel if it came out that NOAA or the IPCC repressed dissenting opinion on climate change. (Recall here that the critique was leveled at a misinterpretation of science in the policy.)

      • avatar cobackcountry says:

        JB,

        Scientists should be disgusted. They should also realize that politics rarely act upon facts and sensibility.

        There can be a number of arguments for the firings. To some degree, those hired fell victim to ‘buyer beware’ tactics. If you go to work for a manure factory, even if they hire you to find ways to reduce manure odor, ultimately the shit shoveling bosses will act to assure their objectives.

        Maybe their firing has been more powerful than their job ever was? I’m not a litigator, but I would venture they could argue loudly that they were unlawfully dismissed. I would guess they certainly could appeal to an over-sight committee or take a position in litigation that contends misconduct and corrupt behavior.

        Just my opinion….but when two cards to a gut shot straight, you can either play the hand to the end, or fold. Either way, you gamble. That is what these scientists did by placing their livelihoods and confidence in the government as I currently operates, or in this process.

    • avatar julie long gallegos says:

      @ Mike Post – making an observation based on science is not the same as floating a bias. And the peer reviewers are professionals and will review the situation. That is what they are paid to do.

      • avatar SaveBears says:

        Julie,

        You are incorrect in your assumption they are paid to do the reviews.

      • avatar Nancy says:

        Julie – posted this link awhile back and posting it again because of your comment “And the peer reviewers are professionals and will review the situation. That is what they are paid to do”

        Well worth the read :)

        http://boingboing.net/2011/04/22/meet-science-what-is.html

      • avatar WM says:

        Here is something else to consider regarding scientists and compensation. There is a HUGE bias here for some of these wolf scientists to have wolves remain listed under the ESA. It is easier to get funding to do their work – for themselves and for their graduate students, and to obtain contracts that might come their way from a state wildlife agency (some of the funding funneling down from the pots of money that FWS sends to the states, or the states come up with from their own funds, giving priority to ESA species).

        If or when the money dries up for wolf studies, some of these folks are going to have to look hard for other funding sources or other species to study.

  3. avatar Robert Goldman says:

    What is wrong with this Democratic administration??? Is there no heart and soul and brain? No respect for true science? No love for our home LAND, including the native wildlife that dwells within this home land? A president takes an oath to preserve and protect the homeland, doesn’t that mean literally what it says? Our homeland includes native wolves and other native predators and other native beings. Aren’t they supposed to be preserved and protected, too? That is real patriotism.

    • avatar timz says:

      “But let’s be clear: promoting science isn’t just about providing resources – it is also about protecting free and open inquiry. It is about letting scientists like those here today do their jobs, free from manipulation or coercion, and listening to what they tell us, even when it’s inconvenient – especially when it’s inconvenient. It is about ensuring that scientific data is never distorted or concealed to serve a political agenda – and that we make scientific decisions based on facts, not ideology.”
      Obama -2009
      “What is wrong with this Democratic administration???”
      I guess the answer is he’s a liar.

      • avatar Ida Lupine says:

        It’s just unbelievable, isn’t it. It’s like a retaliatory firing. So much for democracy!

    • avatar alf says:

      I’ve given up on obummer. He’s an anti-democratic (small “D”) big “L” Liar who obviously doesn’t give a damn about wildlife, nature or natural systems, and who’s only experiences with public lands were probably playing hoops in a public park in Chicago. I’m almost ashamed to admit that I voted for him (the first time, not the second). He is, or should be, an embarrassment to everyone with even the remotest liberal or progressive leaning. I’m ashamed of him, and I’m ashamed of this country.

    • avatar WM says:

      Robert,

      An administration probably is giving some thoughts about the D’s holding on to the White House during this economic transition, keeping what little margin it has in the Senate, and no shifting the House further to the right. Environmental matters are pretty low down the list right now. That is a point that some purists with rather narrow intersts, such as yourself, miss.

  4. avatar Donna Mae says:

    Yeah right, voice your opinion, state your case, but we will go ahead and do what we want anyway!

  5. avatar julie long gallegos says:

    Please, contact your Congresspeople and Senators and loudly voice your disapproval of this process and US F&W Service.

  6. avatar Jeff N. says:

    It’s been 14 years since we truly had wildlife and healthy ecosystem advocates in an administration.

    Man, I miss the days of Domeback and Babbitt. Obama is a huge disappointment in regard to federal land protections and the ESA. His “policy driven by science” stance turns out to be pure horseshit (as highlighted by Tim Z.).

    Same as the old boss indeed.

  7. avatar cobackcountry says:

    Well, we need not worry about the next election as Obama’s failings have assured a victory for the far right.

    On this topic though, we can hardly blame the current administration alone for a process and a department which has been corrupt an of mediocre benefit for over a decade. The current administration is not singular in it’s failing and the FWS is a cascading flow of B.S.

    I will say that these people may have been hired for their opposing views, they were still in fact hired. Their views (being a part of their job description)to a degree, were a part of their employment package. While they are entitled to them, they are also being paid for them. Therefore those views are to a degree, property of he employer. To voice them in a show of opposition against the FWS is not what they were hired for….their expertise and view points as they pertained to wolf management and in an effort to create an equilibrium of representation was. They were hired by the FWS to use their opinions to contribute to a review of a system, and to use those opinions to aid the agency that employed them….they acted outside of their job and very much against their job. It was their act against their employer and not their opposing opinion that resulted in their dismissal……OR SO I EXPECT IT WILL BE EXPLAINED BY THE AUTHORITIES THAT DISMISSED THEM.

    This is typical of so many employers…private and government. They are good with having experts working for them, so long as it benefits them some how.

    So much for transparency and full disclosure. Frankly, their opinions should have been publicly accessible through the FWS. The opinions of the PEER Committee should have been publicized and public opinions should have been solicited. The part where these people felt their expert opinions were disregarded and as effect caused them to sign anything outside of work to shed light upon their opinions—that is the part that proves a defect in the management of the PEER objectives, let alone the management of wolves. We need accountability and we need real experts who seek the greater good, not the lined pockets of a mouth piece.

    • avatar Immer Treue says:

      CB,

      “We need accountability and we need real experts who seek the greater good, not the lined pockets of a mouth piece.”

      Bingo!

  8. avatar cobackcountry says:

    Immer,

    Occasionally I get one right. Simplicity is not wasted on me :)

    • avatar Immer Treue says:

      CB,

      You have no idea, or perhaps you do, of how your quoted comment is relevant in regard to those who have come down on wolves. One wonders as to the change in heart of some due to who butters their bread.

      • avatar cobackcountry says:

        Immer,

        Sadly, I do. It is unfortunate for us all that some people seek monetary gratification at the cost of future possibilities. Cash in the present will kill hope of conservation in the future.

        Human nature and the weakness of it, will be the true battle will fight for all time. We are a cheap species. We sell survival for luxury.

  9. avatar JanWindsong says:

    If the service wanted what as right and was carrying out its policy with ethical and moral standards,this would not be an issue. What does “what the service wants” have to do with what is inthe best interest of the American people? Perhaps this is again the smelly end of vested interests – livestock mayhaps or real estate?

    • avatar SaveBears says:

      You folks really need to open your eyes, I told ya’ll that they ware going to delist wolves at all costs and compromises and that is exactly what they are doing.

      Wolves in the United States will be delisted and the USFWS will wash their hand of this, mark my words and watch it progress. The USFWS does not want ANYTHING to do with wolves anylonger, if you know how to read between the lines, the writing has been on the wall for a long time now.

      And please don’t take this as an agreement with what they are doing, but do take it to heart, I have watched this move forward for many years now.

      • avatar timz says:

        They won’t be able to wash their hands of the issue anytime soon, they will surely face multiple court battles dragging on for perhaps years.

        • avatar save bears says:

          Tim, I will venture to say, it will end up the same way as it did with MT and ID, with congess stepping in

          • avatar Ralph Maughan says:

            savebears,

            Well maybe, but Congress has stopped working. I am not just repeating the negative feelings folks have had about Congress for many years. I mean they have really stopped passing any legislation at all with a few exceptions. This is such a change from the past, and by “past” I mean well over a hundred years, that it is remarkable.

            • avatar Savebears says:

              Ralph I dont’ trust any of them to do the right thing, for the most poart, they give a shit what the American people feel like!

            • avatar Eric T. says:

              While I agree that Congress has essentially stopped working, there is still a budget or continuing resolution to pass that would be ripe for a ID\MT type of rider………..

              • avatar SaveBears says:

                What is so damn sad, is every single one of us posting on this blog is guilty, we elected the bastards!

              • avatar cobackcountry says:

                SB,

                What is sadder yet is that we don’t have better choices in who we can elect. I’m thinking that some of the people here should consider a bid for office.

  10. avatar CodyCoyote says:

    The ” handwriting on the wall” that SB reads aloud was written there with two hands: Congress, and energy lobbyists. It sure was not put there by the democratic process of civil government and reasonable regulation.

    Between the EPA abrogating its responsibility in the West in places like Pavilion WY on behalf of the frackers ( and elsewhere) to protect groundwater from oil patch abuse, and the USFWS abrogating the letter of the law in protecting species, it’s a race to the bottom.

    Hope there’s a dungeon waiting for them…

  11. avatar Diane Gubrud says:

    These three scientists should come out and be interviewed.They have nothing to lose now!!Go public and viral with this news story.They deserve to be heard.

  12. avatar Della Munnich says:

    Please write to your local papers, address this outrageous act of the USF&WLS. Post and re-post. The majority of people know nothing of this corruption!
    Yes, the scientists need to go viral, and we need to help them do so. Contact all news media. Do what you can. We all need to speak up, more then ever now.

  13. avatar JB says:

    Here is a very succinct explanation of how the FWS excluded peer reviewers, why it’s wrong, AND what is wrong with the rule: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6PFKtMzra7c&feature=youtu.be

    • avatar SAP says:

      I may be hoping for too much, JB, but perhaps this could be an amazing teachable moment about the role of science?

      • avatar JB says:

        Hi SAP:

        Yes, as we’ve discussed, science is capable only of answering “is” questions, not “ought” questions. However, when the FWS proposes a rule they are attempting to answer an “ought” question using science (or more accurately, they use science to inform the answer to the ought question). In this case, the FWS presents a distorted view of the science–one that supports its view that wolves should no longer be listed. Peer reviewers are asked to comment on the science–specifically, they’re asked whether the role accurately characterizes the science. Essentially, the letter sent by scientists to FWS (which I signed) notes that the FWS’s characterization of the science is deeply flawed. The letter was signed by several scientists whom the FWS cites in the proposed rule. By tossing out scientists who have criticized the rule, the FWS (at least) gives the impression (whether true or not) that it is attempting to manipulate the peer review process so as to obtain a favorable review of its rule.

        • avatar SAP says:

          To elaborate – I was really struck by Vucetich’s discussion of “judgement” in the interview (at about 1:54 in). I think what he’s laying out there is a very clear account of how science really does work — it doesn’t “speak for itself,” it doesn’t render “objective” truth on its own. Rather, it is a transparent process of evidence-based reasoning. He’s not saying, “I have the truth and they don’t,” he’s arguing for a particular path to arriving at the truth.

          I’d have to say that FWS sure seems to be looking for scientists who agree with what they want to do. Otherwise, they’d have to argue that they would be ok with Vucetich et al., so long as they kept quiet about their views until the peer review process had officially kicked off? Seems like an absurd distinction to make.

          • avatar JB says:

            ” I think what he’s laying out there is a very clear account of how science really does work — it doesn’t “speak for itself,” it doesn’t render “objective” truth on its own. Rather, it is a transparent process of evidence-based reasoning.”

            Yes, exactly! What I find infuriating about the listing process is that all of these judgments are essentially hidden, apparently to maintain the illusion of objectivity (under the cover of science). Folks, you CAN NOT judge a population as secure/viable/recovered with science alone–such judgments are a function of scientific evaluations of risk, and (very non-scientific) assessments regarding the acceptability of risk. FWS (and many scientists) continue to hide behind the former without acknowledging the latter. They engage in their own form of advocacy, it’s just hidden from those who aren’t looking; it’s what some have called “stealth advocacy”.

            • avatar SAP says:

              At a glance, it seems that one challenge would be codifying into law (or agency regulation) a transparent process of making scientific judgements. Not necessarily because it’s hard to describe or set up, but in large measure because there are a few too many scientists out there who either naively or cynically cling to the notion that they have made themselves bias-free, and that any “scientist” who owns up to biases isn’t really a scientist anymore.

              In my cursory study of the field of population viability, it appears that the field was born sometime in the late 1970s (E.O. Wilson & William Bossert published A Primer of Population Biology in 1971, but it essentially describes the study of population dynamics, not the extinction risk of certain populations, nor the good or bad of those risks and outcomes). I bring this up to argue that the ESA predates the field of population viability, so it’s understandable that the Act hasn’t in the past really incorporated a more sophisticated understanding of the field.

              It’s 2013, though. Population viability is a maturing field, and can — if we go into it with a clear understanding the normative elements — provide some legal and policy prescriptions. Otherwise, we’re left with opaque pronouncements from “experts” about what’s viable or sustainable.

              (With wolves in particular, there’s clearly another dimension or three to the debate, beyond viability: wolves and other larger mammals seriously test our commitment to living with native species. They aren’t marbled murrelets or kirtland’s warblers. What we see FWS and Congress doing is drawing a line and saying that we’re done with wolves, they don’t need the headache of having them live in more places. Politicians rarely can make such clear statements, though, so they have to dress it up in a bunch of Science-y sounding rhetoric.)

              • avatar Nancy says:

                “With wolves in particular, there’s clearly another dimension or three to the debate, beyond viability: wolves and other larger mammals seriously test our commitment to living with native species. They aren’t marbled murrelets or kirtland’s warblers. What we see FWS and Congress doing is drawing a line and saying that we’re done with wolves, they don’t need the headache of having them live in more places. Politicians rarely can make such clear statements, though, so they have to dress it up in a bunch of Science-y sounding rhetoric”

                Nice way to sum it up SAP, knowing that you’ve been in the “thick of it” for awhile :)

  14. avatar WM says:

    JB,

    If you are at liberty to say, who were the other two who were excluded from possible participation in the peer review because they signed the letter?

    • avatar JB says:

      Hi WM: Unfortunately, I’m not at liberty to say. However, if you examine the 17 signatories it should be pretty clear whom the USFWS would regard as “experts” in wolf ecology/genetics/behavior.

      • avatar WM says:

        Actually, JB, I feel dumb for asking. Ralph reveals names in the last paragraph of his introductory comment above, which I read and then forgot. One of those embarrassing “duh” moments.

  15. avatar Dan says:

    This whole best available science argument is weak. Science is what it is. There is science in an oil spill, a nuclear melt down and in the birth of a wolf. What people are really saying when they say “best available science” is they support the “science” that fits their point of view and their advocacy.
    It’s funny how society imitates nature. In a capitalistic society, when there is any opportunity and many times, when there is only the perception of opportunity, people dive in and go for broke. Plants, animals, all living things do the same. If they can gain a foot hold and make a go at it they do.
    We had the great wolf experiment. We dumped them into Yellowstone and the roadless areas of Idaho to see what they would do. Guess what. They thrived and ate themselves north, south, east and west. The ate themselves into direct competition with humans who have an equal zeal for their quarry.
    The science is what it is. Elk and wolf numbers. Browse data, birth rates and many other things defined and undefined by our understanding.
    The end result in all this – wolves and Americans niches overlap to much for unmanaged wolf populations.

    • avatar Ida Lupine says:

      I don’t understand a word you are saying. Which great wolf experiment – the one where we tried to wipe them off the face of the earth and almost succeeded, or the reintroduction? What science – too many elk or not enough? Canadian wolves are not the original wolves, or a wolf is a wolf?

      Our ‘quarry’ just doesn’t overlap – humans have completely engulfed every resource on the planet and still want more. The term ‘manage’ needs to be less vague and better defined to be accepted.

      • avatar Jon Way says:

        In MT, ID, and WY it is becoming obvious that “manage” means to try & reduce wolf pops to biological irrelevant minimums but (miniscule) enough (100-150) to not be placed back on the ESA again. So much for treating them like “any other kind of animal”.

    • avatar JB says:

      Dan:

      A variety of scientific claims are relevant to the proposed rule. Some of these claims (like current wolf populations) are not debated, while others (like the taxonomic status of wolves in eastern North America) are the subject of substantial academic debate. Your suggestion that science “is what it is” fails to recognize such uncertainties. Some of the claims the Service makes in the proposed rule run directly counter to existing science. In these cases, the Service conveniently fails to cite the relevant scientific literature. (More on this latter.)

    • avatar SAP says:

      “unmanaged wolf populations”??? We’ve been managing them with bullets from the get-go. The idea that they weren’t “managed” while under federal protection isn’t accurate.

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‎"At some point we must draw a line across the ground of our home and our being, drive a spear into the land and say to the bulldozers, earthmovers, government and corporations, “thus far and no further.” If we do not, we shall later feel, instead of pride, the regret of Thoreau, that good but overly-bookish man, who wrote, near the end of his life, “If I repent of anything it is likely to be my good behaviour."

~ Edward Abbey

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