Tuesday, 21 May 2024

Federal government sued over 55 species decisions

A former Interior Department official's political interference with scientific decisions continues to have ramifications, as environmental groups announced last week their intent to sue the federal government over listing decisions for 55 species in 28 states.

The Center for Biological Diversity on Aug. 28 filed a formal notice of intent to sue the Department of the Interior over the species. A statement from the center said the notice “initiates the largest substantive legal action in the 34-year history of the Endangered Species Act.”

The suit comes in the wake of a scandal involving former Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Interior Julie MacDonald, who resigned this spring after an Inspector General investigation found she had interfered with science and violated the Endangered Species Acts.

But while MacDonald has been the one Interior Department official drawing most of the blame, the Center for Biological Diversity said she's not alone.

The suit notice alleges that, while MacDonald engineered many of the illegal decision, some decisions also were ordered by her boss, Assistant Secretary of the Interior Craig Manson, his special assistant Randal Bowman and Ruth Solomon in the White House Office of Management and Budget. Lower-level bureaucrats also reportedly were involved in some decisions.

Kieran Suckling, policy director of the Center for Biological Diversity, said the lawsuit “puts the Bush administration on trial at every level for systematically squelching government scientists and installing a cadre of political hatchet men in positions of power.”

Suckling added, “The Bush administration has tried to keep a lid on its growing endangered species scandal by scapegoating Julie MacDonald, but the corruption goes much deeper than one disgraced bureaucrat. It reaches into the White House itself through the Office of Management and Budget.”

The species at the heart of the suit include 24 in California, among them, the California red-legged frog, which is believed to have habitat in Lake County, as Lake County News reported during coverage of the MacDonald case earlier this summer.

Other species listed include the arroyo toad, California least tern, marbled murrelet and snowy plover.

The Center for Biological Diversity reported that the heart of the suit is the illegal removal of one animal from the endangered species list, the refusal to place three animals on the list and proposals to remove or downgrade protection for seven animals.

The group also alleges that 8.7 million acres of critical habitat across 28 states has been stripped from protection because of those Interior Department decisions.

Suckling said government and university scientists carefully documented the editing of scientific documents, overruling of scientific experts and falsification of economic analyses in many of the disputed decisions.

“By attacking the problem systematically through this national lawsuit, we will expose just how thoroughly the disdain for science and for wildlife pervades the Bush administration’s endangered species program,” Suckling said.

Valerie Fellows, a spokesperson for U.S. Fish and Wildlife, told Lake County News that the agency had announced at the end of July that they were going to review endangered decisions due to MacDonald's involvement in those decision making processes.

Some of those decisions went back to 2001, said Fellows, and involved MacDonald changing science “which ultimately changed the outcome.”

The agency's California-Nevada Operations office decided to review eight decisions, said Fellows, including the California red-legged frog, which already is under way.

California, noted Fellows, has many endangered species petitions currently in litigation.

Fellows said the agency had no formal response to the lawsuit.

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


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