Feds Won’t Remove Healthy Bird From Endangered Species List

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Ethan Barton Managing Editor
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U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) officials are keeping a bird on the endangered species list, even though it admits there are other thriving and unthreatened populations.

The decision means more than 197,000 acres in California are protected as a critical habitat, which severely limits how it can be used.

Studies show no DNA differences between the three California gnatcatcher subspecies – two of which are flourishing – but FWS still refuses to delist the coastal variety, most recently Aug 31.

“What’s the point of doing any scientific studies if Fish and Wildlife is just going to do what they want?” University of Nebraska-Lincoln biology professor Robert Zink told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “They didn’t cite anything in support of validity of the subspecies.”

Officials instead argue that there isn’t enough evidence to discredit the existence of a subspecies, even though they didn’t provide data that proves it, either. Meanwhile, the Endangered Species Act requires that the agency must use “the best scientific data available.”

Zink has produced numerous studies showing the gnatcatcher subspecies’ DNA is indistinguishable, but FWS argues that his research isn’t expansive enough.

“In essence, the genetic markers selected by Zink et al (2013) are slow to show change and it is believed the coastal California gnatcatcher recently diverged from other species of California gnatcatcher,” FWS spokeswoman Jane Hendron told TheDCNF.

Zink has expanded his studies to conform to the agency’s mandated methodology, but FWS continuously asks for more changes.

“They keep moving the goal posts and requiring that more data are needed,” independent scientist and Wildlife Science International Inc. President Rob Roy Ramey II told TheDCNF. “Notice that they call for more and more data but never set any thresholds or critical tests by which to objectively accept or reject a subspecies.”

“What distinguishes science from pseudo science is that a hypothesis is potentially falsifiable,” Ramey continued. “Regrettably, at the FWS, listed subspecies that they are heavily invested in are not potentially falsifiable, no matter how much the data shows otherwise [emphasis his].”

FWS also argued that the coastal California gnatcatcher could someday show genetic differences. That reasoning creates a broad interpretation of the Endangered Species Act. “Basically anything could be a listable entity,” Ramey said.

A major difference between the California gnatcatcher so-called subspecies is their location, but that doesn’t make the groups unique.

“If robins in Central Park become threatened, you wouldn’t list all robins in New York state as threatened,” Zink said.

Ultimately, the issue shows a larger problem with endangered species listings.

“There’s power, money and authority that comes with these listings,” Ramey said. “And those corrupt and people aren’t willing to let those go.”

FWS “is so deeply devoted to this as a subspecies that they won’t let go,” he continued. “They decided to throw science out the door. Of course they’re going to err the side of subspecies every time.”

Hendron provided TheDCNF with what she described as a “relatively straightforward” explanation of methodology that would convince the agency that the subspecies were genetically indistinguishable, but a reporter was unable to decipher it.

“FWS operates with three principles: obfuscation, intimidation, and ignoring contrary evidence,” Ramey said.

Here’s what Hendron provided:

“The information below is contained in the summary from panelist #2, in response to the above question 5 (you can find it on page 109 of full report). This is relatively straightforward.

“‘I see two analyses that clarify the taxonomic and conservation status of the [coastal California gnatcatcher].

“‘1. Assay genetic variation among putative subspecies of gnatcatchers using a technique such as RADseq which yields a high dimension data set (>1000s of loci) and then analyze the data following an approach (e.g. Sackett et al. 2014) that explicitly allows for an evaluation of the genetic distinctiveness (not just the phylogenetic distinctness) of the CCG….It is important to stress that HOW this data is analyzed (see above) is just as important as the generation of it per se.

“‘2. Sequence genomes of 2-3 individuals from each putative subspecies and look for evidence of adaptive divergence in protein coding genes. This would provide a direct assessment of evidence for adaptive divergence between subspecies. An example of this “population genomics” approach applied to birds is a recent study on Darwin’s finches (Lamichhaney et al. 2015)…’”

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