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Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Best Science Available?

The administration has no comment regarding the use of Mickey Mouse science:

Mouse frustrates endangered species policy, by John Heilprin, AP: An acrobatic mouse is threatening Bush administration efforts to give Western developers an upper hand over endangered species. The Preble's meadow jumping mouse is in fact a distinct creature, according to a U.S. Geological Survey study presented ... to senior Interior Department officials.

That finding contradicts research touted by Interior Secretary Gale Norton last February when she proposed removing the mouse from the government's endangered species list. Critics say it also undercuts the administration's claim that it uses the best science available in promoting fewer protections for imperiled wildlife.

The previous study, which was done by a biologist since hired by Norton's department, concluded there was no genetic difference between the Preble's meadow jumping mouse and the much more common Bear Lodge meadow jumping mouse. Listed by the government as a threatened species since 1998, the Preble's meadow mouse stands in the way of any project that could damage its habitat, a broad swath of Colorado and Wyoming ...

The 3-inch mouse uses its 6-inch tail, and strong hind legs to launch itself a foot and a half into the air, where it can abruptly switch directions in mid-flight. It prefers to roam by night, scurrying and jumping along streams through undisturbed grasslands. There it dines on insects, spiders, fungus, moss, willow, sunflower, grasses and seeds, hibernating each winter from mid-October to early May.

A year ago, developers welcomed the findings of biologist Rob Roy Ramey ... and the Interior Department's conclusion, based on his findings, that the Preble's meadow mouse no longer needed federal protections. Ramey was later contracted as a science adviser to the Interior Department in its attempt to reclassify several species whose endangered status is blocking developers.

The new study was conducted by Tim King, a USGS conservation geneticist based in West Virginia, and peer-reviewed by academic experts outside government. One of the reviewers, Eric Hallerman, a professor of fisheries and wildlife science at Virginia Tech, said King's study debunks Ramey's work. "It contradicts it fairly strongly," Hallerman said. ... Hallerman said Ramey's work reflects the Bush administration's intrusion of politics in its scientific research. "It seemed to me from the get-go, he wanted to find that this was not a taxonomically valid subspecies," Hallerman said.

After others raised similar doubts, Interior officials agreed to revisit Ramey's work by commissioning King's study. They had no immediate comment Wednesday. ... King said it probably would be a few more months before officials decide whether his study justifies continued federal protections for the high-flying mouse. "I would think that would be one of the options," he said.

Though I would not want the present poltical environment to tackle such a task, I could be convinced that the Endangered Species Act needs reexamination. But there is no role for shoddy or comissioned science in such a process, and no role for anything that blurs the distinction between true science in search of the truth and work designed to reach or support a predetermined conclusion.

    Posted by on Wednesday, January 25, 2006 at 03:07 PM in Economics, Environment, Politics, Regulation, Science | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (3)


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