Publication Date


Date of Final Oral Examination (Defense)


Type of Culminating Activity


Degree Title

Doctor of Philosophy in Public Policy and Administration


Public Administration

Major Advisor

Monica Hubbard, Ph.D.


Jen Schneider, Ph.D.


Stephanie Witt, Ph.D.


The most recent International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List classifies 40,084 out of the 142,577 evaluated species as threatened with extinction, with 1,962 of those species identified in the United States. The U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA) was enacted in 1973 to protect and recover threatened and endangered species from extinction. The ESA federal listing process can be lengthy and arduous, taking years for a species to be proposed for listing. During the process the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) seeks comments from the public and peer reviewers on the proposed rule. Previous research debates the effectiveness of these public comments on the final rule. This dissertation examines the commenting influence on the FWS decision-making during the Director Dan Ashes tenure to examine the FWS’s use of agency discretion during listing determinations. The qualitative study coded 1,053 narrative comments and the FWS response 11 listing rulemakings. Results showed that 50% of the commenting was science-related, with 34% directed at the underlying science of the proposed listing and 16% providing new or additional species information. The FWS was found to be more responsive to new and additional species information commenting than underlying science commenting. Although ESA statute forbids consideration of economics during a listing determination, almost 23% of the issues raised by commenters were economic related. Critical habitat, however, was only viewed as an issue in 2% of the comments. These findings can inform species conservation efforts and assist natural resource managers.