The scientists' letter stems from concerns among the scientific community about legislative proposals - such as H.R. 4840 - that aim to undermine the way science is defined and considered within the Endangered Species Act. H.R. 4840, sponsored by US Representatives James Hansen (R-UT), Greg Walden (R-OR), and Richard Pombo (R-CA), is scheduled for mark up July 10 in the House Resources Committee.
The scientists warn about aspects of these bills, including portions of H.R. 4840, that would limit the ability of scientists to use the best available science to conserve endangered species. "Unless peer review processes and scientific methodologies are defined and managed by scientists, they have no credibility. The hallmark of science is an independent search for truth – we all must respect that process and support it," Blockstein stated.
The scientific community has long been an adamant supporter of the key ESA principle that requires listing decisions to be based solely on the basis of the best scientific and commercial data available. In their letter, the 300+ scientists call on Congress to allow scientific data used in ESA decisions to be "identified and analyzed by scientists free from political pressure and with adequate resources." The scientists also note that the scientific community must be able to use its best tools, so statutory limits should not be placed "on the use of scientific methodology . . . for the collection and analysis of scientific data relevant to ESA decisions."
Noting that "there are many species hovering on the brink of extinction and they need scientifically based action to help in their recovery," the scientists also caution against changes in the ESA that would "slow crucial decisions" through "additional delays and bureaucracy."
Nineteen of the nation's largest environmental groups also have sent a letter to Congress calling for opposition to H.R. 4840, calling it a stealth attempt to undermine science and impede implementation of the ESA. The organizations' letter goes on to note that "this attempt to legislate science is tantamount to requiring a doctor to attempt to diagnose cancer with only a stethoscope." An alternative to H.R. 4840 is being proposed by Rep. Nick Rahall (D-WV).
"This is nothing but another attempt to weaken the Endangered Species Act," said Susan Holmes, legislative representative for Earthjustice. "In addition to causing delays and restricting the use of important scientific tools, the Hansen legislation would drastically limit the ability of citizens to petition for species protection and it would give special rights to industry. At a time when many species hover on the brink of extinction and need immediate, scientifically based action to ensure their survival, this legislation would be devastating. "