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First Thing We Do, Let's Kill All the . . . Taxonomists?

April 2005

Citation: ELR 10255

Author: Fred Bosselman

The beleaguered agency officials who administer the endangered species laws have been inundated with litigation challenging everything from the constitutionality of their statute to the soundness of their biological judgments. But recently, they are being challenged for relying on what they must have assumed to be an unimpeachable source of information--the classification of species by the official taxonomic organizations.

In two recent decisions, judges have refused to accept the official classification of animals set down by the international committees of taxonomists who have long been recognized as the authorities who should decide how to assign the various taxa, e.g., genus, species, subspecies, etc., to groups of animals. Instead, the courts have allowed the parties to introduce evidence about the way that they thought animals should be classified for purposes of wildlife legislation. Before this spurt of litigation becomes a flood, it would behoove all sides to consider whether we can't find a more credible solution to such disputes than turning judges into taxonomists.

Fred Bosselman is Professor of Law Emeritus at Chicago-Kent College of Law.

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