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Interior Deputy Assistant Secretary Julie MacDonald Scandel

Guest William J. Snape III

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Guest William J. Snape III

The Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit in federal district court demanding that the U.S. Department of the Interior and one of its agencies, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, hand over public documents about former Interior Deputy Assistant Secretary Julie MacDonald. MacDonald abruptly resigned in April 2007 after the exposure of her unlawful interference with dozens of endangered species and habitat decisions by agency scientists, including at least one decision in which she stood to financially benefit. Ongoing legal investigations by the inspector general and General Accounting Office seek more information about MacDonald and whether the corruption goes beyond her office to higher levels.


“Our lawsuit seeks to cast sunshine on the dark cloud of secrecy that hangs over this administration’s environmental decisions, in this case regarding the conservation of endangered species and their habitat,” said Center senior counsel William Snape, who filed the lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act. “We charge that the Interior Department and Fish and Wildlife Service have failed to produce records on MacDonald and have even failed to respond to our request in a timely fashion. These are problems that have plagued countless Freedom of Information Act requests by citizens throughout the past seven years.”


Over the past seven months particularly, the Department of the Interior has been hammered by numerous confirmed examples of political interference slashing protections for America’s natural heritage. Several weeks ago, the Fish and Wildlife Service was forced to revise seven Endangered Species Act decisions because of pressure by Congress. A federal judge in Idaho recently ordered the agencies to redo their decision not to list the sage grouse because of interference and manipulation of science by Julie MacDonald — yet the sage grouse was not one of the seven decisions the Service has agreed were tainted. Further, Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon has asked the inspector general to review numerous additional decisions “improperly influenced” by MacDonald that the agencies “failed to capture,” including rules affecting the southwestern bald eagle, northern spotted owl, delta smelt, Montana fluvial Arctic grayling, spikedace, Mexican garter snake, Sacramento splittail, and several California vernal pool species.


The Center has filed a notice of intent to sue over decisions in which the protections of 55 species were illegally reversed by MacDonald and other high-ranking administration officials, and the group has been forced to sue over many of these politically tainted decisions.


Some species affected by egregious corrupt or inept Interior decisions include:


Sacramento splittail: Though this fish was listed in 1999, the decision was fought in court by state water authorities and the species was suspiciously delisted in 2003. MacDonald made over 500 edits to the final decision. At the time, she co-owned a farm in California that overlapped with habitat for the fish. The inspector general cited her for conflict of interest.


Mexican garter snake : This species has been extirpated from 85 to 90 percent of its U.S. range. The Arizona field office of the Fish and Wildlife Service drafted a proposed finding for the snake’s listing as “warranted but precluded” by higher listing priorities. The regional office concurred. However, internal documents show “that [MacDonald] was involved in changes to drafts in the finding and that the determination was changed to being not warranted.”


Santa Ana sucker: In 2004, Service biologists proposed 23,719 acres of critical habitat for the Santa Ana sucker, a fish that had lost 75 percent of its river and stream habitat. Former Assistant Secretary Craig Manson and Special Assistant Bowman slashed the acreage to 8,305 acres. Agency staff then complained regarding justification of the decision and in one email remarked “how difficult this one will be when it comes to straight-facing it with the public and the press.”


Meanwhile, Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne has not listed a single species under the Endangered Species Act since taking office approximately 18 months ago, despite there being almost 280 candidate species scientifically identified as being warranted for listing. This failure to list species surpasses even the record of Reagan’s infamous secretary James Watt, and has earned Kempthorne the first-ever “Rubber Dodo Award.”


“When you add up all the evidence,” concluded Snape, “the Bush Interior Department is clearly the worst in U.S. history.”

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