A recent survey by two environmental groups concludes that on at least 200 occasions, staff scientists at the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) have been compelled to alter findings in order to weaken protection for endangered and threatened species. The Union of Concerned Scientists and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility conducted the survey despite opposition from federal officials. The groups garnered 420 responses from polling 1,400 scientific staffers at FWS.
Sally Stefferud, a biologist who recently retired after 20 years of service to FWS, says she is not surprised by the survey results. “Political pressures influence the outcome of almost all the cases,” she says. “As a scientist, I would probably say you really can’t trust the science coming out of the agency.”
The survey results, while disturbing to environmentalists, come as no surprise to analysts familiar with the Bush administration’s interest in weakening the Endangered Species Act so as to favor development opportunities and resource extraction interests. The increased Republican majority in Congress is bolstering administration efforts to revamp the landmark 1973 law this year. Meanwhile, the new budget proposal by the White House calls for reducing funding for FWS’ endangered species program by $3 million.