Best available science under the U.S. Endangered Species Act

Congress displayed great prescience when it directed the US Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service to use “the best available scientific and commercial data” to inform its determinations under the federal Endangered Species Act. But those agencies’ stubbornly default to surmise and assertion in many regulatory and decisions that rightfully should be informed by scientific information. We describe the role of the best science directive in the implementation of the Act and best practices that should be employed to realize Congress’s intent. We identify the types of data, analyses, and modeling efforts that can serve as best science in support of agency findings and policy documents. Finally, we consider the role and application of the best available science in the analysis of the effects of alternative management actions and in the development management-action scenarios in adaptive management frameworks. We contend that more rigorous adherence by the wildlife agencies to the best available science directive and more assiduous judicial oversight of agency determinations and actions is essential for effective implementation of the Act, particularly where it has substantial ramifications for listed species, stakeholder segments of society, or both.

Murphy DD, Weiland PS. 2016. Best available science under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. Environmental Management 58:1-14.

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