The federal proposal to remove endangered species protections for all gray wolves in the lower 48 states came under fire Friday from a scientific peer review panel that unanimously found that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's decision does not reflect the best available science regarding wolves.
The panel's analysis was released Friday and is the latest in a series of setbacks to the plan, announced last year. When it announced its plan last June, Fish and Wildlife Service Director Daniel Ashe called the recovery of wolves — which were hunted and poisoned to the brink extinction "one of the most successful recoveries in the history of wildlife conservation."
In addition, the new rule would recognize the small population of Mexican wolves in New Mexico and Arizona as a unique subspecies and list the animal as endangered.
Since that announcement, the process of obtaining peer review of the delisting decision has been fraught with charges of compromised scientific integrity and political manipulation.
This is the second panel convened by the federal agency.
An earlier incarnation was disbanded after it surfaced that the wildlife service sought to remove scientists who signed on to a letter expressing concerns about the delisting proposal.
The process was restarted and the new document arrives at many of the same conclusions reached by previous analysis, including the assertion that the delisting rule is based on analysis not universally accepted among scientists and not reflecting the latest data.
One reviewer, Dr. Robert Wayne, a canine geneticist at UCLA, wrote that the wildlife service appeared to cherry pick the scientific record.
"Information contrary to the proposed delisting is discounted whereas that which supports the rule … are accepted uncritically," Wayne said.
Another reviewer found fault with the federal assertion that gray wolves are not naturally occurring in the Eastern U.S., calling such a statement "unfounded."
Wolves are now legally hunted in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming. State and federal biologists monitor pack populations and can reinstate protections if numbers reach levels that officials consider dangerously low.
California is considering imposing its own protections after the discovery of a lone male wolf that wandered into the state's northern counties from Oregon two years ago. This week the state Department of Fish and Wildlife recommended to the California Fish and Game Commission that wolves not be added to the state's endangered species list.
The commission will take up the matter at a future meeting.
In light of the panel's findings, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Friday announced that it would extend public comment on the matter another 45 days. A final decision is expected late next year.