24 Feb 2009, 12:16am
Bears Endangered Specious Marine mammals
by admin

Endangered species listings lack solid science

by Matthew A. Cronin, Ph.D., Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, February 22, 2009 [here]

Governor Sarah Palin and the Alaska Legislature were criticized for opposing the Endangered Species Act listings of beluga whales in Cook Inlet and polar bears. In these articles, ESA advocates imply the listings are based on definitive science. They are not. Gov. Palin and her chief of staff, Mike Nizich, have capably justified the state’s positions.

Animals considered under ESA are not necessarily endangered with extinction. Polar bears were listed even though worldwide numbers have increased during the past 40 years and most populations have not declined. Of the 19 populations identified in the ESA documents, five were declining, two were increasing, five were stable and seven were unknown. Polar bears were considered endangered because of global warming and summer sea ice models. Whether polar bears are endangered at this time depends on one’s view of the model predictions.

Models also were used for the belugas, so it also is not definite they are endangered with extinction. The number of whales declined from 653 in 1994 to 375 in 2008, but have increased during the past six years. Model results are predictions, not facts, and should be considered hypotheses to be tested with new information.

Some ESA species are not even species because the ESA can apply to species, subspecies or “distinct population segments.” The terms “subspecies” and “distinct population segment” are not rigorously defined, so almost any fish and wildlife population can qualify for ESA listing. Subspecies and distinct population segments are simply fish and wildlife populations with distinguishing characteristics in a geographic area. Examples of these categories include entire species (polar bears), subspecies (Pacific walrus) and populations (belugas in Cook Inlet).

Populations of belugas, sea otters and sea lions in Alaska were declared genetically distinct to support designations as distinct population segments.

However, “genetically distinct” must be scientifically defined.

Every person (except an identical twin) is genetically distinct from every other. That’s why DNA testing works.

Species also are genetically distinct. There are definite genetic differences between caribou and moose.

However, populations within one species are somewhere in between individuals and species. The beluga, sea lion and sea otter distinct population segments do not have absolute genetic differences, but have limited interbreeding with other populations. Because of the indefinite nature of subspecies and distinct population segments, the potential for more to be considered under the ESA is almost limitless.

Managing wildlife requires identifying objectives that must be balanced in multiple-use management. Maintaining belugas in Cook Inlet is one objective, but so is the continuation of commercial, subsistence and sport fishing; oil, gas and mineral production; marine and air traffic; and forestry. Because ESA listings are not definitive and can negatively impact citizens and economics, the governor’s opposition is legitimate and I believe reflects her concern for multiple-use management and her responsibility to provide input from the state of Alaska.

Finally, scientists who don’t support ESA listings have been accused of non-objectivity and bogus science (Anchorage Daily News, May 9, 2008 and Jan. 15, 2009). This is reminiscent of what was known as Lysenkoism in the Soviet Union, in which science was dictated by government policy and dissent was not allowed. Because ESA species designations are not scientifically definitive, debate and discussion should be welcomed, not prevented.

Matthew A. Cronin, Ph.D., is a research associate professor of animal genetics with University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Palmer Research Center and a member of the Alaska Board of Forestry. He has researched population genetics in polar bears and other marine mammals, grizzly bears, caribou, reindeer and cattle, including collaboration with state and federal biologists. Cronin provides science and management information to the State and natural resource/agriculture industries on issues including the ESA, and serves on the Alaska Board of Forestry as the non-governmental wildlife biologist. Education: B.S. Forest Biology Syracuse 1976, M.S. Biology Montana State University 1986, Ph.D. Biology Yale University 1989.

Scientific reports by Dr. Cronin posted in the W.I.S.E Colloquim: Wildlife Sciences may be found [here, here, and here].

Dr. Cronin continues to provide facts in an atmosphere that often eschews truth. There is no “job security” for the house of cards built upon the “Endangered Species Act,” if Cronin’s words ring true with readers — BUT the actual health and well-being of people, flora and fauna BENEFITS from his work. That knocks many from their comfort zones, but so be it. May Matt Cronin and others armed with reality, continue to stand up and tell the truth. It is the strait and narrow path that makes a positive difference!



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