How a math formula could decide fate of endangered U.S. species | Reuters

The Trump administration is considering a proposal that could effectively let some plants and animals become extinct so cash-strapped agencies can use more of their funds to save others.

At a closed-door meeting last month, Arizona State University ecologist Leah Gerber presented a plan to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials that would use a mathematical formula to direct government money away from endangered and threatened species she calls “over-funded failures” and toward plants and animals that can more easily be saved.

Gavin Shire, a spokesman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said in an email to Reuters that the agency is examining the controversial proposal.

“We have worked closely with this group of scientists as they developed this new conservation tool, and while we have not made any determinations yet, are impressed with its potential,” Shire said. “We will be exploring further if and how we may best use it to improve the effectiveness of our recovery efforts.”

Gerber’s May 5 meeting with administration officials and their stated interest in her proposal have not been previously reported. The agency would not comment further.

The proposal comes at a time when the Trump administration is seeking to cut billions from the budgets of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of the Interior, which oversees the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The Endangered Species Act bars the government from deciding which animals and plants become extinct. But funding one species over another could let some decline or die out.

“I just don’t think it’s possible to save all species even though I would like to,” said Gerber, a self-described Democrat and environmentalist. “That’s an uncomfortable thing to say and I don’t like it but that’s the reality.”

Gerber said as many as 200 additional species could be saved by directing funds away from species such as the iconic northern spotted owl – whose numbers have declined despite millions of…

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