The Use of Population Genetics in Endangered Species Act Listing Decisions

Kelly, Ryan P.
November 2010
Ecology Law Quarterly;2010, Vol. 37 Issue 4, p1107
Academic Journal
In recent years the federal agencies that administer the Endangered Species Act have increasingly relied on genetic data to decide which species and populations merit protection. Because the analysis of genetic data is highly technical and unfamiliar to the majority of those concerned with the Act, agency decisions are in danger of becoming less transparent, insulated by the language of genetics and the seeming surety of its associated statistics. In this paper, I attempt to provide a resource for lawyers and other non-biologists faced with understanding the genetics that underlie many modern claims under the Endangered Species Act. I do so by describing the types of data federal agencies routinely use and the analyses those data drive. I then scrutinize the agencies' treatment of the primary data in two particular agency decisions under the Act, and conclude with suggestions to improve the accessibility of this kind of data, making public input more effective. As technical data inform an ever larger percentage of decisions about species protection, this paper provides basic information to improve citizens' ability to understand and engage in the administration of the Endangered Species Act. The continued legitimacy of the agencies and the Act itself depend in part on such citizen engagement, and on the continued transparency of agency decisions.


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