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Integral to the policy decision process involving the management and recovery of marine species is the consideration of trade-offs between the economic and ecological costs and benefits of protection. a somewhat traditional use of economics in protected species research and management has involved cost minimization or cost-effectiveness analyses to help select or prioritize conservation actions.
Peer review under the wildlife agencies' purview addresses the review of draft decisions or manuscripts by subject-matter experts in relevant fields of inquiry who did not contribute to the development of those decisions or manuscripts.
Recognizing “the importance of peer review for the credibility of agency scientific products,” an Office of Management and Budget (OMB) information-quality bulletin (OMB 2005) established government-wide “standards for when peer review is required for scientific information and the types of peer review that should be considered by agencies in different circumstances.” Providing detail that the wildlife agencies' peer review policy lacked, the bulletin states “Peer review typically evaluates the clarity of hypotheses, the validity of research design, the quality of data collection procedures, the robustness of the methods employed, the appropriateness of the methods for the hypotheses being tested, the extent to which the conclusions follow from the analysis and the strengths and limitations of the overall product.” The bulletin also addresses a number of critical elements of peer review, including the timing and scope of review, selection of reviewers, public participation, and disposition of reviewer comments.
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature, a global environmental organization, lists approximately 1,200 marine species worldwide that are considered vulnerable, threatened, or at-risk of extinction.
Many are provided legal protection through national laws requiring research and management measures aimed at recovering and maintaining the species at a sustainable population level.
We go on to identify common failures in scientific review that compromise the quality and reliability of agency determinations and then describe the attributes of independent scientific reviews that enable the agencies to discharge their statutory duties while seeking to conserve threatened and endangered species and the ecosystems on which they depend.
In retrospect, Congress' prescience in directing the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to use the best available scientific information to inform its regulatory determinations under the US Endangered Species Act (ESA) of 1973 was, in a word, remarkable.
Less clear is whether the authors of the statute understood that formal review by outside experts of agency determinations under the Act would become common practice.
Considering the substantial economic and social impacts that can accompany implementation of ESA prohibitions, together with concerns by the environmental community that species protections are frequently inadequate, one can appreciate the demands of stakeholders that agency determinations be subjected to review by outside experts.
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