Tuesday, 16 July 2024

Fish and Wildlife to reconsider species decisions

The US Department of the Interior's Fish and Wildlife Department says it will reexamine several endangered species decisions that may have been interfered with by a former assistant secretary.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service announced July 20 that it will reconsider eight decisions involving endangered species that were overseen by former Assistant Secretary of Fish, Wildlife and Parks Julie MacDonald.

MacDonald was a Bush appointee who joined the Department of the Interior in July 2002. She resigned April 30 following an investigation by the Department of Interior’s Inspector General that found she had used her position to violate the Endangered Species Act, rewrote scientific reports, browbeat agency scientists and colluded with industry lawyers to generate lawsuits against the Fish and Wildlife Service.

During a July 2 Congressional hearing in Vallejo, MacDonald's role in influencing environmental decisions in the Bay-Delta came to light in testimony given by Steve Thompson, manager of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife's California/Nevada Operations Office, as Lake County News previously reported.

Congressman Mike Thompson questioned Steve Thompson about if the agency had been under political pressure to change science used for decisions in the Bay-Delta, similar to how Vice President Dick Cheney used political influence in a decision last year that resulted in the death sof 70,000 salmon in the Klamath River.

Steve Thompson said MacDonald had shown interest in the agency's work on delta smelt, a seriously threatened fish that calls the Bay-Delta home.

But he said he couldn't discuss the issue further, as another Inspector General's investigation is under way into the matter.

Growing concern over the role MacDonald might have played in compromising science in the name of politics has resulted in calls for Fish and Wildlife to reconsider decisions that may have been tainted by her influence, as well as Congressional hearings on the matter.


Red-legged frog decision slated for reconsideration 

The final critical habitat designation for the California red-legged frog is one of the endangered species decisions that will be re-examined because the decision was potentially tainted by MacDonald, according to the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the groups that helped bring MacDonald's actions to light.

The red-legged frog was made famous in Mark Twain's 1865 short story, “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.”

The frog once ranged across most of California, according to a Fish and Wildlife report. In the late 1800s and early 1900s it was harvested excessively for food, and today only occurs in about 10 percent of its historic locations.

The frog is found in 238 streams and drainages in 23 counties statewide, including Lake County. Project documents from the county's proposed Middle Creek Ecosystem Restoration Project state that the red-legged frog is among several “special-status wildlife species” that the plan could help by creating additional wetland, riparian habitat and open space. Other county planning documents reveal that major projects must ensure that they don't impact the frogs.

In 2006 the Fish and Wildlife Service slashed the critical habitat protection for the red-legged frog by 90 percent, which the center called “a giveaway to the development industry” and which conservation groups called “a recipe for extinction of the frog.”

The service cited a biased and controversial economic analysis as justification for cutting the original designation from 4.1 million acres to 450,288 acres of critical habitat, according to the center. The final critical habitat designation excluded much of the areas the service had previously determined are necessary for the long-term survival and recovery of the frog.

The other species which will get another look from Fish and Wildlife include:

  • White-tailed prairie dog;

  • Preble’s meadow jumping mouse;

  • 12 species of Hawaiian picture-wing flies;

  • Arroyo toad;

  • Southwestern willow flycatcher;

  • Canada lynx.

The Center for Biological Diversity issued a statement in which it said that, while it's glad these species will receive consideration for additional protection, but that the effort falls short of what's needed to address MacDonald's damage to endangered species protections. The center added that it appears to be more a token effort to deflect criticism.

“Fish and Wildlife’s reconsideration of eight decisions tainted by former assistant secretary Julie MacDonald is a day late and a dollar short,” said Noah Greenwald, conservation biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Despite no scientific training, MacDonald interfered in dozens of scientific decisions concerning endangered species--only a full and transparent accounting of all the decisions tainted by MacDonald’s malignant influence can undue the damage she has done.”

The center said the list fails to include decisions to not list the Mexican garter snake, to potentially delist the marbled murrelet, and to sharply reduce critical habitat for the bull trout, even though regional directors of the Fish and Wildlife Service specifically requested that these decisions be reconsidered because of MacDonald’s influence.

The list also fails to include reconsideration of critical habitat for the Sacramento splittail, even though a story by the Contra Costa Times revealed that MacDonald may have illegally limited designation of habitat to avoid an 80-acre farm she owns in Dixon.

The center reported that MacDonald is known to have been involved in reversing numerous other decisions by agency scientists to protect species, including decisions over Gunnison sage grouse, Montana fluvial arctic grayling, Mexican garter snake, Southwestern bald eagle and many others. These decisions should also be reconsidered.

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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