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WASHINGTON— Just one week after President Biden ordered a broad review of the Trump administration’s anti-wildlife policies, including the decision to strip Endangered Species Act protections from gray wolves, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service summarily asserted today that the previous administration’s decision to delist the gray wolf was valid in a cursory, three-paragraph letter to conservation groups.
On Jan. 20 one of Biden’s first executive orders required agencies to conduct a 60-day review of problematic actions of the previous administration in order to ensure that “the Federal Government must be guided by the best science and be protected by processes that ensure the integrity of Federal decision-making.” At the end of the review, all agencies were required to submit a report to the president with their recommendations on how to proceed.
Instead of complying with this process, the Fish and Wildlife Service asserted in a letter signed by Gary Frazer, assistant director for ecological services, that the Trump administration’s rule removing Endangered Species Act protection from gray wolves in the lower 48 states remains valid.
“There is no way the Fish and Wildlife Service followed President Biden’s directive and completed its review in just five business days,” said Brett Hartl, government affairs director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “It’s baffling that they went rogue by not even waiting till there was a new secretary of Interior to assess what happened under Trump. This is a slap in the face to the American public, who want scientific integrity restored to the government and to ensure that wolves are protected till they’re recovered across this country.”
The Service removed federal protection from wolves in October despite deep concerns raised by the peer review of the decision. Independent scientists raised substantial concerns that wolves remained still functionally extinct in the vast majority of their former range across the continental United States.
Even before the Trump administration, the Fish and Wildlife Service routinely ranked among the worst agencies in terms of concerns about political interference undermining the scientific process. In a 2015 survey, 70% of Fish and Wildlife Service scientists stated that considerations of political interests in agency decisions were too high.
“President Biden has made clear that listening to the science will be the hallmark of his administration. It’s sad the Fish and Wildlife Service didn’t get the memo,” said Hartl. “We won’t be able to take on the extinction crisis or the climate crisis if federal agencies like the Fish and Wildlife Service feel free to routinely ignore science whenever it suits them.”