Sep 112015
 

petercottontailFINAL3kwThe Fish and Wildlife Service has decided that listing the New England cottontail is not warranted, according to a 12-month finding that went on Public Inspection with the Federal Register today. It will be officially published Sept. 15.

The 12-month finding made its appearance the same day that Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and New Hampshire Senator Gov. Jeanne Shaheen announced a conservation partnership in Dover, N.H., to protect the rabbit.

In essence, range-wide conservation efforts aimed at protecting thousands of acres of habitat are the basis for the decision not to list.

“We can now say that future generations of Americans will know the cottontail,” Jewell told the Boston Globe before traveling to New Hampshire to release cottontails raised in captivity onto private land. “This is a great Endangered Species Act success story.”

"Approximately 10,500 New England cottontails now live in a priority area, which brings the recovery effort three-quarters of the way towards the goal of 13,500 cottontails in healthy, young forest landscapes by 2030. Habitat projects are also producing increased numbers of cottontails," according to a joint press release.

But the release also states that "today, this once-common native species survives in five isolated populations across Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York and Rhode Island."

“Our work is not finished,” FWS Northeast Regional Director Wendi Weber said. “We and our partners are committed to seeing this initiative through. We’re still seeking help from landowners willing to make and maintain young forest and shrubland habitat. In most places, this type of habitat will depend on our careful and ongoing management.”

In its evaluation of conservation efforts, FWS concluded "there is a high level of certainty that the parties [to the conservation effort] will obtain the required amount of voluntary participation needed to provide for the habitat needs of the New England cottontail."

Those parties are:

  • Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIFW)
  • New Hampshire Fish and Game Department (NHFGD)
  • Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife (MDFW)
  • Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (RIDEM)
  • Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (CT DEEP)
  • New York Department of Environmental Conservation (NYDEC)
  • USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS)
  • Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS)

The website for the conservation partnership is http://newenglandcottontail.org/

NRCS status report

FWS cottontail page

Background:

A petition to list the rabbit was filed in 2000 by Biodiversity Legal Foundation, Conservation Action Project, Endangered Small Animals Conservation Fund and Defenders of Wildlife. The service issued a positive 90-day finding on June 30, 2004, after receiving two notices of intent to sue from Defenders.

On Sept. 12, 2006, FWS said listing the cottontail was warranted, but precluded by higher-priority listing actions.

The cottontail is also known as the gray rabbit, brush rabbit, wood hare, or cooney.

Feb 252015
 

PEER news release (2/25/15) (and pasted below)

SCIENTIFIC FRAUD INFESTS FISH & WILDLIFE SERVICE TOP RANKS

Whistleblower Hearing Traces Corruption and Retaliation Back to Director’s Door


Washington, DC —An explosive whistleblower hearing transcript paints a vivid picture of rampant scientific misconduct, callous reprisal and systemic mendacity within the upper echelons of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS), according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) which posted the full texts today. The transcript also illustrates how a highly-touted agency Scientific Integrity Policy has become a tool for just the opposite.

This whistleblower case is striking because it involves a high-level manager rather than a field biologist; Gary Mowad is a 28-year FWS veteran and former Deputy Director for law enforcement. For the past few years, Mowad had been the FWS Texas Administrator for the Ecological Services Division, handling a parade of thorny endangered species and natural resource issues arising out of the Lone Star State.

The hearing took place because Mowad challenged being placed on an open-ended “detail” causing him to leave Austin for Albuquerque for a position with no apparent duties. The reassignment followed his reporting a number of scientific integrity concerns, including what he termed a blatantly political decision by the FWS hierarchy to reverse the staff recommendation that the dune sagebrush lizard, with habitat in the heart of Texas oil country, be listed under the Endangered Species Act

In an August 18, 2014 hearing before the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board, testimony indicated:

  • Widespread scientific fraud, such as using models to classify paved parking lots as endangered species habitat, is facilitated by top FWS officials to accommodate a network of politically connected consultants called the “Texas mafia;”
  • Within hours after Mowad’s disclosure to the FWS Scientific Integrity Officer, it was relayed to top headquarters officials, and he was ordered to vacate his office. An arrangement to end Mowad’s exile was personally quashed by FWS Director Dan Ashe; and
  • The Whistleblower Ombudsman for Interior’s Office of Inspector General testified that “Months of pointed discussions and stern warnings…have not resulted in any formal and permanent action” to discipline managers guilty of misconduct or protect whistleblowers from further retaliation.

Mowad’s case quickly settled after MSPB Judge Mary Ann Garvey summarized what she had heard by saying “it appears that the history of the Fish and Wildlife, and specifically …Regional Director Benjamin Tuggle, [Deputy Director Rowan] Gould, and Ashe is that whistleblowing retaliation is tolerated or even condoned. Apparently someone got promoted or something good happened to them after they retaliated.”

“Political skewing of science in today’s Fish & Wildlife Service is just as rife and blatant as it was during the darkest days of the Bush years,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, whose organization represented other FWS scientists working in the Southwest Region under Tuggle. “The Service’s entrenched culture of corruption persists with the full knowledge and blessing of Director Dan Ashe.”

Currently, PEER is in federal district court trying to pry records out of FWS detailing the role Ashe and his top deputies played in derailing scientific misconduct cases. Ashe’s office maintains that no records exist documenting what others have testified about his actions. Adding injury to insult, the Interior Department, FWS’ parent agency, weakened its Scientific Integrity Policy, just before Christmas to make it even harder to discipline managers who override science in pursuit of agency agendas.

“After reading this transcript, it is hard to dispute that emerging safeguards against politicized science are stillborn,” added Ruch. “Until these agencies admit the problem exists, there will be no progress. The first meaningful step toward reform would be removing Dan Ashe as Director.”

###

Read key excerpts from the hearing testimony

View the full 673-page hearing transcript
Volume I

Volume II

See PEER lawsuit on FWS Director’s role in fraud cases

Note recent weakening of Interior’s Scientific Integrity Policy

Review recent FWS scientific integrity scandals