[permaculture] Decisions on Endangered Species Act to be reviewed after meddling by Dept. of Interior official.

Lawrence F. London, Jr. lflj at bellsouth.net
Sun Jul 22 18:18:37 EDT 2007

Seattle Post-Intelligencer
Saturday, July 21, 2007
Last updated 2:28 p.m. PT
Decisions on species to be reviewed
Methods of Interior official who resigned in question


In the wake of the resignation of a Bush administration official who was rebuked for meddling in scientists' calls about 
protecting endangered species, federal officials on Friday announced plans to re-examine eight decisions influenced by 
the disgraced official.

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But three Pacific Northwest species that sparked controversy -- the spotted owl, the bull trout and a seabird called a 
marbled murrelet -- won't be included in the review. Environmentalists labeled the administration's move a "token effort 
designed for damage control."

Friday's announcement by Dale Hall, director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, comes less than three months after 
the resignation of Julie MacDonald, an Interior Department official in charge of the wildlife service. She had been 
chastised by the agency's inspector general for bullying agency scientists and leaking information to industry groups.

Hall said officials ordered the re-examination of eight decisions about imperiled species because "we want to make sure 
that the science is true."

The agency said the review would not cover numerous other decisions MacDonald influenced because officials "determined 
that her involvement in the outcome of those decisions did not affect the species' status. Many other decisions 
influenced by MacDonald involved application of law and policy that were within her authority to make."

But Kristen Boyles, a Seattle lawyer with the Earthjustice law firm who frequently sues on behalf of threatened species, 
argued that the review should be much broader.

"If Ms. MacDonald and others in D.C. made illegal decisions, I don't care if you call them policy, science or economic 
decisions, they should be reviewed if those decisions are invalid," Boyles said.

The most recent controversy in the Northwest involved a Washington, D.C.-based team of Bush administration officials, 
including MacDonald, who overruled a panel of Northwest-based experts and reduced by one-fifth the amount of acreage 
protected as "critical habitat" for the spotted owl.

"People's bells should go off when the folks in an agency's regional office are overruled by political appointees in 
D.C.," Boyles said. "I don't believe the region is always right, but I believe they are paying attention to the science 
because they are the scientists."

MacDonald is a civil engineer with no formal training in natural sciences.

Decisions to reduce federal protection for the Rocky Mountain jumping mouse, a Western bird known as the "mosquito king" 
and other threatened creatures will be reconsidered after alleged improper meddling by MacDonald.

MacDonald's resignation from the post of deputy assistant secretary overseeing Fish and Wildlife and the National Park 
Service was announced in May. Among the eight decisions to be reviewed, two involve the Preble's meadow jumping mouse. 
One was a 2005 proposal to remove the 9-inch mouse, named for its ability to leap twice its length and pivot midair, 
from the government's endangered species list. The second was a 2003 decision about the amount of acreage that should be 
protected to help the mouse recover.

Other species covered by Hall's order are the Southwestern willow flycatcher, white-tailed prairie dog, arroyo toad, 
California red-legged frog, Canada lynx and 12 species of Hawaiian picture-wing flies.

Hall said he ordered the reviews based on the recommendations of his regional directors, whom he had asked to study 
MacDonald's decisions.

"It's a blemish, I believe, on the scientific integrity of the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Department of the 
Interior, so we're going to place a pretty high priority on trying to get those done," he said.

"We wouldn't be doing them if we didn't at least suspect that the decision will be different. But I don't want to 
predetermine outcome."

Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, praised the Interior Department for 
"stepping up to the plate to begin addressing the 'politics trumps science' ploy endemic throughout this administration."

His committee held a hearing on MacDonald's actions shortly after her resignation was announced.

"What we have learned to date raises concerns about political tinkering with science that has affected perhaps 100 
endangered species-related decisions -- and goodness knows what else -- that deserve further scrutiny," Rahall said Friday.

Environmentalists noted that Hall was agreeing to review only about a third of the cases in which misconduct by 
MacDonald was alleged.

"While we welcome the revisiting of decisions where political interference has been documented, the list of species 
under consideration is neither comprehensive nor exhaustive," said Francesca Grifo, director of the Union of Concerned 
Scientists' integrity program.

"The real culprit here is not a renegade political appointee," Grifo said. "The real culprit is a process where 
decisions are made behind closed doors."
P-I Reporter Robert McClure and Associated Press Reporter John Heilprin contributed to this report.

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