Washington, DC — In deciding the first appeal brought under the Data Quality Act, the Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reversed findings by a scientific panel he convened, leaving in place a ruling that allows hunters to shoot rare trumpeter swans. Enacted in 2000, the Data Quality Act requires federal agencies to use only information meeting the highest standards of “quality, objectivity, utility and integrity.”
In a letter dated March 26, 2004, FWS Director Steve Williams rejected a complaint filed by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) that the Service illegally relied on false information when it denied trumpeter swans legal protection last year. Nonetheless, Williams ordered the agency’s work to undergo a “peer review process.”
“Mr. Williams ruled the data wasn’t broken but that he will fix it right away,” commented PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that FWS has not released a copy of its scientific advisory panel’s findings to PEER. “This is yet another instance of politics trumping science under the Bush Administration, in this case to the detriment of the trumpeter.”
PEER’s complaint alleges that the Service violated the Data Quality Act when it determined that Rocky Mountain trumpeter swans do not constitute a distinct population segment, thereby blocking an effort to protect the rare swans under the Endangered Species Act from hunts in Utah, a state squarely in the birds’ migratory flyway. PEER contends that FWS relied on an in-house report that was not peer-reviewed. The Service also ignored peer-reviewed work that contradicted their study, and misinterpreted the one peer-reviewed study they used.
According to FWS staff, the report of the scientific advisory panel the agency convened has been on Director Williams’ desk since late last year. This same staff person said that Williams put a lot of thought into his response but, in his one-page letter, Williams did not explain his reasons.
“The purpose of the Data Quality Act is to enhance the transparency of science used in the regulatory process but Director Williams has managed to make his agency’s scientific process even more opaque,” commented Ruch, whose organization already has one Data Quality Act lawsuit pending against the Army Corps of Engineers. “Director Williams should explain why he overruled his agency’s top scientists.”
At the time the decision was made, PEER released a white paper written by Service employees, titled Swan Dive: Trumpeter Swan Restoration Trumped by Politics, detailing how the agency contorted its biology in order to authorize swan hunters in Utah to shoot trumpeters, which had previously been protected.