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Ten Species Decisions to be Reconsidered by the Fish and Wildlife Service

July 20, 2007
WildEarth Guardians
In This Release
Wildlife   Canada lynx, Gunnison’s prairie dog, New Mexico meadow jumping mouse
#EndangeredSpeciesAct, #ProtectPrairieDogEmpires
Santa Fe, NM. – The Associated Press today reports an expected U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announcement that the agency will review cases on ten endangered species that suffered from political interference by former Interior Department official Julie MacDonald. Amidst scandal, and just prior to House Resources Committee hearing on political interference with the Endangered Species Act, MacDonald resigned from Interior on May 1st.

“We applaud the agency’s decision to take a look at species with whom Julie MacDonald interfered, and we hope that it signals the beginning of real reform at the Fish and Wildlife Service,” stated Dr. Nicole Rosmarino of WildEarth Guardians.

The Service is expected to make the announcement today. According to AP, “We’re reviewing a number of decisions that Julie MacDonald was involved with and we’re determining how best to proceed,” said Chris Tollefson, a spokesman for the Fish and Wildlife Service, who wouldn’t confirm anything more. “There are a lot of things under consideration.”

The AP’s sources suggest that species for whom the agency is expected to reconsider decisions include the Preble’s Meadow Jumping Mouse, Southwestern Willow Flycatcher, Gunnison’s Prairie Dog, White-tailed Prairie Dog, Canada Lynx, and others. However, in a July 6, 2007 letter to House Resources Committee Chairman Nick Rahall, Deputy Interior Secretary Lynn Scarlett stated that a review by FWS Director Dale Hall would examine Gunnison’s Prairie Dog, White-tailed Prairie Dog, Southwest Bald Eagle, Gunnison Sage-Grouse, Round-tail Chub, Montana Fluvial Arctic Grayling, Mexican Garter Snake, Mountain Plover, Tabernaemontana rotensis, and Sacramento Splittail. WildEarth Guardians has litigated over the Service’s negative determinations on both the Gunnison’s Prairie Dog and the Mountain Plover.

“It is crucial for endangered species determinations to be based on science and shielded from politics. All of the animals with whom MacDonald meddled deserve the safety net the Endangered Species Act provides,” stated Rosmarino.

Both the AP article and Scarlett’s letter are missing additional MacDonald era listings decisions that warrant agency reconsideration, including the greater sage-grouse. “The greater sage-grouse deserves protection under the Endangered Species Act,” said Mark Salvo, Director of the Sagebrush Sea Campaign. “Politics has for too long dictated the future for the grouse.”

Scarlett’s letter comes on the heels of a July 2 lawsuit settlement in which FWS agreed to reconsider ESA listing for the Gunnison’s Prairie Dog, which resides in the four corners area. FWS emails revealed blatant political interference by MacDonald with this species. One email from the Service’s Chris Nolin, dated January 19, 2006, states, “Per Julie please make the pd [prairie dog] finding negative.” Two weeks later, the negative finding was published on February 7, 2006.

Nationwide press over the past eight months has revealed MacDonald’s role in reversing endangered species decisions, and House Resources Committee Chairman Rep. Nick Rahall (D-WV) conducted congressional investigations into the matter. Rahall and others have also underscored that the political sabotage of the Endangered Species Act goes beyond MacDonald to others within the George W. Bush administration.

The Endangered Species Act is effective at preventing species extinctions: over 99% of the animals and plants protected under it have been spared from extinction, while 227 species would have likely gone extinct if it were not for this law. Not one species has been listed in the year that Dirk Kempthorne has been Interior Secretary, despite a backlog of nearly 300 candidates awaiting listing and thousands more likely needing federal protection. The bottleneck on listing takes a toll: dozens of species have gone extinct due to listing delays.

A broad coalition is supporting Gunnison’s prairie dog Endangered Species Act listing. The initial listing petition, filed by WildEarth Guardians in February 2004, included 73 co-petitioners, among which were homebuilders, realtors, landowners, religious groups, conservation groups, and others. The plaintiffs in the lawsuit settled on July 2 were WildEarth Guardians, biologists Dr. Constantine Slobodchikoff, Dr. Ana Davidson, and Dr. David Lightfoot, and Jews Of The Earth, Center for Native Ecosystems, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, Wildlands Conservation Alliance, and Bob Luce, the former coordinator of the Interstate Prairie Dog Team.

Associated Press Story:

July 19, 2007Washington Post

Endangered Species Decisions Re-ExaminedBy John Heilprin

WASHINGTON — The director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service may keep a rare jumping mouse in the Rocky Mountains on the endangered species list after all.

The Preble’s meadow jumping mouse, the Southwestern willow flycatcher and several other species vying for survival could get a new lease on life from the agency, whose director, H. Dale Hall, is reviewing decisions affecting them, The Associated Press has learned.

They are among the plants and animals affected by up to 10 decisions involving former Interior Department official Julie MacDonald that might be reversed or modified, a government official said Thursday night, speaking on condition of anonymity because a decision had not yet been made.

MacDonald resigned in May as deputy assistant secretary for fish, wildlife and parks after the department’s inspector general found that she had broken federal rules and should be punished for bullying federal scientists and improperly leaking information about endangered species to private groups.

In her three years on the job, MacDonald also was heavily involved in delisting the Sacramento splittail, a fish found only in California’s Central Valley, while owning an 80-acre farm where the fish live.

“We’re reviewing a number of decisions that Julie MacDonald was involved with and we’re determining how best to proceed,” said Chris Tollefson, a spokesman for the Fish and Wildlife Service, who wouldn’t confirm anything more. “There are a lot of things under consideration.”

Jan Hasselman, a lawyer for the Earthjustice law firm, said other species likely to be affected by that review are Hawaiian picture-wing flies, Western white-tailed prairie dogs, Marbled Murrelet seabirds along the Pacific Coast, Southwestern arroyo toads, California red-legged frogs, Bull trout in the Northwest and Canada lynx along the U.S. border.

“This list is just the tip of the iceberg,” said Hasselman, whose law firm has represented environmental groups suing the department over some of those species. “This problem runs far deeper than just the species they claim they’ll review.”

Also Thursday, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., asked Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne to clarify how his department will ensure its accountability and ethics in the wake of MacDonald’s departure and the tenure of J. Steven Griles, an ex-deputy secretary handed a 10-month prison sentence for lying to senators in the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal.

Wyden said he was concerned that Mark Limbaugh, the Interior official appointed to head the newly formed Conduct Accountability Board, had just resigned to take a job representing local and state water agencies with interests before the department.

Other Contact
Mark Salvo, Sagebrush Sea Campaign, 503-757-4221