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A biologist from the Center for Native Ecosystems spoke today at the CU Natural History Museum about the ongoing struggle for the habitats of endangered species in Colorado.
In a lecture titled, “Scientists to the Rescue: Keeping Endangered Species Decisions Honest,” Erin Robertson, a CU graduate with a master’s in biology, spoke to a crowd of about 60 students and citizens about the political struggles involved in preserving habitats. She also discussed the obstacles in securing the “endangered” label for the Gunnison sage grouse, the Preble’s meadow jumping mouse and the arboreal tree frog. She talked about the controversy around the jumping mouse and attempts to remove it from the endangered species list.
The Department of the Interior classified the Preble’s meadow jumping mouse as endangered in 1998, but in 2004 the Colorado Fish and Wildlife Service attempted to declassify the mouse based on data that concluded the mouse did not differ genetically enough from two other North American types to be classified as a separate species. A separate review confirmed that the mouse was a new species. The CFWS announced that they would organize a panel to review both studies.
The independent panel reviewed the data from both studies and found “serious contamination” in the genetic samples used in the first study, Robertson said.
“Until a final determination regarding our proposed delisting is made in 2006, the Preble’s meadow jumping mouse will continue to be fully protected under the Endangered Species Act,” the CFWS stated on its Web site.
The Gunnison sage grouse was classified as a new species in 2000 and was put on the candidate list for endangered species the same year.
Dr. Jessica Young reported that the grouse “was the first new bird species to be classified in North America in 100 years,” Robertson said.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service removed the grouse from the candidate list in April 2006.
After her lecture, Robertson opened the conversation and invited audience opinions and questions about how to keep special interests out of environmental policy making. In response to a question about how her organization confronts opponents of conservation, Robertson talked about a summit between scientists and farmers happening today to discuss improving incentives for protecting land.
Farmers and ranchers “are a group that’s a little easier to talk to than large corporate interests,” Robertson said.
Members of the audience believed that preserving endangered species was important for ecological diversity.
“There is a balance between all kinds of organisms, and if we eliminate one of these species, who knows what kind of effect that will have 10 years from now,” said Se Jin Song, a doctoral candidate in ecology and evolutionary biology.
Loren Sackett, also a doctoral candidate in ecology and evolutionary biology, said not enough is being done to reach out to average American voters.
“Mass media, such as Al Gore’s recent movie, are the only way to reach the masses,” Sackett said.