Washington, DC–The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service illegally relied on false information when it made a major finding on trumpeter swans this spring, according to a complaint filed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The complaint alleges that the Service violated the Data Quality Act (DQA) 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.
Last January the Service published a 90-day Finding in response to a lawsuit seeking to designate the Tri-state Population of trumpeter swans as a Distinct Population Segment. The finding concluded that there was not “substantial information” to justify a listing.
In order to support this finding, the Service produced and relied primarily on a previously-unpublished study that directly contradicts decades of biological understanding of the Tri-state Population. The complaint details how the study failed to meet the most basic standards of the Data Quality Act:
While the DQA requires that the Service rely on peer-reviewed studies, the primary basis of the finding had never been evaluated, or even read, by trumpeter swan experts;
The study omits important available data that contradict the authors’ thesis; and
The authors use politically driven language and sweeping generalizations that are not supported by data.
While the secondary source document cited by the finding was legitimately researched and rigorously reviewed, that study’s lead author has complained that the Service distorted her conclusions. In a March 7 letter to FWS Director Steve Williams, Biologist Ruth Shea argues that the Service “wrongly cites” the study “while omitting any mention of that report’s real conclusion.”
“When the Service couldn’t find a single study that would support their agenda, they simply fabricated one and misrepresented another,” stated PEER’s National Field Director Eric Wingerter. “It’s pretty clear why they didn’t bother running their new study by other trumpeter swan experts: it simply doesn’t meet basic scientific standards.”
The PEER complaint asks that the Interior Department remove the original 90-day Finding.
In August, 2001 PEER released a white paper written by Service employees, titled Swan Dive: Trumpeter Swan Restoration Trumped by Politics. The white paper detailed how the agency inappropriately authorized swan hunters in Utah to shoot trumpeters, which had previously been protected.
Read PEER’s Data Quality Act complaint.
Read Ruth Shea’s letter to FWS disputing their use of her research.