A senior Bush political appointee at the Interior Department has rejected staff scientists' recommendations to protect imperiled animals and plants under the Endangered Species Act at least six times in the past three years, documents show.
In addition, staff complaints that their scientific findings were frequently overruled or disparaged at the behest of landowners or industry have led the agency's inspector general to look into the role of Julie MacDonald, who has been deputy assistant secretary of the interior for fish and wildlife and parks since 2004, in decisions on protecting endangered species.
The issue has been covered briefly here and there; I thought I would do a full review of the issue, not only for the sake of its importance and relevance for the upcoming election, but also for personal reasons (I'll explain later).
MacDonald is cited by UCS and other media sources as interfering with ESA protection of the following organisms (in each example she directly reversed or interfered with the science suggesting protection):
- Gunnison's Prairie Dog (Utah, Arizona, Colorado): This prairie dog's habitat has been reduced to about 10 percent by industrialization. Disease has checked its numbers as well.
- White-Tailed Prairie Dog (Wyoming, Montana, Colorado): Habitat reduced to about 8% of historical range, population decimated due to extermination and habitat loss.
- Roundtail Chub (southwest): Population checked by introduced (non-native) species of fish, overfishing and habitat loss. This specific population is considered unique by certain FWS scientists because of its genetic uniqueness.
- Gunnison Sage Grouse (Colorado, Utah): A population of only about 4000 remain (500 breeding individuals), due to habitat loss, livestock farming, and pesticide use.
- The Greater Sage Grouse (southwest): Same threats as above. This sage grouse has a much larger population, but is also considered a game bird.
- The Marbled Murrelet (Pacific northwest): This waterfowl's population is declining due to logging of old growth forests, gill net fishing, oil spills and other pollution (the Audubon Society reports that 3,300 individuals were killed in the Exxon Valdez incident in Prince William Sound).
- Trumpeter Swans: These swans are "highly intolerant" of human presence, and have been pushed into forested areas (which are being logged). The dispute is again over the significance of a certain population.
- Wolverines (northwest): Despite MacDonald's interference, a court in Montana has recently ruled that the scientific evidence for protection of the wolverine be reevaluated (Defenders of Wildlife, NW Ecosystem Alliance and Klamath Siskiyou Wildlands Center vs. USFWS, 9/29/06).
- The Delta Smelt (west): The smelt is threatened by pesticide runoff, mainly in the SF Bay area (which decimated the Maine lobster population several years ago).
- Bull Trout (northwest): An economical assessment of protecting the trout was censored and altered, giving officials the "evidence" to reverse protection. Threats? Guess: Habitat loss, non-natives and overfishing.
- Florida Panther: As if these guys didn't have it hard enough. The panther is facing extinction from the utter decimation of its historical habitat; as the population of Florida increases, the panther population decreases. It has gotten so bad that geneticists are considering widening the bottlenecked gene pool of the panther by cross breeding them with other American big cats.
- Tabernaemontana rotensis (Pacific islands): There are only 30 of these flowering plants extant, all on Air Force grounds. The taxonomy of the plant is disputed, and it is unclear whether or not MacDonald was directly involved, but if T. rotensis is indeed a separate species, it is critically endangered and should be protected.