“Sound Science” Movement Threatens Endangered Species Act

Long-time opponents of the Endangered Species Act — perhaps the most efficacious, far-reaching environmental legislation in U.S. history — are back under a new guise. A movement to add “sound science” provisions to the act, while it sounds innocuous, actually threatens to paralyze enforcement. Inspired by a preliminary National Research Council report on the decision to shut off Klamath River Basin flows during a 2001 drought to protect endangered fish (the report concluded that there was not “sufficient scientific evidence” to support the decision), ESA opponents, led by Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), have introduced amendments to the act that emphasize “field research” and “empirical data.” The real motivation, say enviros and scientists, is to exclude population modeling, upon which most species science is based, and thus cripple ESA decision-making. The authors of the NRC report are among the many scientists decrying the proposed changes to the act; they claim their preliminary report was wildly misinterpreted by folks with a political axe to grind.