Interior Department Inspector General Earl Devaney has released a report entitled “The Endangered Species Act and the Conflict between Science and Policy” that reviews the political influence of former Interior Department Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fish, Wildlife, and Parks, Julie MacDonald, on listing decisions concerning 20 different species. The report concludes that MacDonald exerted undue political influence on decisions relating to at least 13 of these species. Cases in which the decisions made by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service were not based on the best available science include those of the marbled murrelet, spotted owl, and bull trout. Since the release of the report, the Bush administration has contacted a federal court and stated that it may reevaluate its 2005 decision to reduce the critical habitat designated for the endangered bull trout by 90 percent.

Devaney wrote, “In the end, the cloud of MacDonald’s overreaching, and the actions of those who enabled and assisted her, have caused the unnecessary expenditure of hundreds of thousands of dollars to reissue decisions and litigation costs to defend decisions that, in at least two instances, the courts found to be arbitrary and capricious,” Noah Greenwald of the Center for Biological Diversity has noted that settling in cases involving endangered species decisions has become “almost routine” under the Bush administration.

The report suggests that changes to the Endangered Species Act (ESA) may be needed to correct the misconduct surrounding listed species at the Department of Interior. Under the ESA, the Interior Secretary has the authority to reduce protected habitat or make other changes but the law does not make clear the situations under which such modifications are be permitted.

Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) is among those in Congress considering action on the matter. Wyden stated, “While I look forward to working with a new administration with a much greater respect for the law, Congress needs to take immediate steps to make sure that Julie MacDonald’s legacy can never be repeated.”

Although MacDonald resigned in 2007, a number of people who aided her in exerting her political influence are career employees that remain at the Department of Interior, including Randal Bowman, Thomas Graf, and Craig Manson.

The complete Inspector General’s report is available at: http://www.doioig.gov/

 


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