than one to blame on ESA rulings reversal
11/30/2007, Capital Press
Followed by related article by Dan Keppen, Executive Director
Family Farm Alliance
find themselves endangered after politics, science and
lawsuits have all played their role in a fiasco involving
This week the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced it has
reversed seven rulings connected to endangered species that
involved senior interior department official Julie MacDonald.
She resigned last May after the department concluded that
scientists had been pressured by her to change their findings
on endangered species and also leaking information to industry
Farmers and ranchers should be watching carefully what rulings
are being overturned and how it will affect them. Legal and
agricultural organizations in the West had lobbied MacDonald
as they worked for the best interests of farmers.
For a long time, the agricultural community has argued there
are major flaws with the Endangered Species Act and how
listings occur. They have demanded that listings be based on
science, rather than politics and pressure from special
Too often, they have been the victim rather than the victor
when it came to ESA listings and rulings.
However, some scientists and environmental groups have accused
the Bush administration - and MacDonald - of manipulating and
misrepresenting ESA findings for political reasons and
continued their challenges.
They will feel vindicated after this week's announcement that
affects species such as the white-tailed prairie dog and the
Preble's meadow jumping mouse. Earlier decisions by the agency
have now been reversed, and other cases being reconsidered
include the Hawaiian picture-wing fly, the Arroyo toad, and
the California red-legged frog.
No one should be surprised that there is heavy politics and
lobbying affecting ESA decisions. Agricultural officials
aren't the only ones who play the game. One can only imagine
all the pressure applied by lobbyists for environmental groups
or other special interest organizations.
Another factor that must be examined is the role of lawsuits
on the ability of agencies and their employees to do their
In 2004, an interior department official testified before a
Senate subcommittee on fisheries, wildlife and water, about
how the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service "has been embroiled in
a relentless cycle of litigation over its implementation of
the listing and critical habitat provisions of the act." The
official added "The service now faces ... serious difficulties
due not to agency inertia or neglect, but to a lack of
scientific or management discretion to focus available
resources on the listing actions that provide the greatest
benefit to those species in greatest need of conservation."
She went on: "These lawsuits have subjected the service to an
ever-increasing series of court orders and court-approved
settlement agreements, compliance with which now consumes
nearly the entire listing program budget. Consequently, the
service has little ability to prioritize its activities to
direct resources to listing program actions that would provide
the greatest conservation benefit to those species in need of
Perhaps that is one of the biggest problems, beyond the usual
politics and lobby efforts. The courts and endless lawsuits
are not just dictating ESA policy, but keep the agency from
doing a better job.
The person who explained and warned about this in 2004? Julie
Yes, ESA rulings must be based on sound science, not politics.
But until politicians can make needed changes to the ESA,
there will continue to be battles in courts, special interest
groups and agricultural representatives will continue to
fight, and people like MacDonald will feel an obligation to
get involved beyond what is politically or legally acceptable.
The ultimate losers won't be just the endangered species that
deserve protection, but agricultural landowners and others who
are also caught in the mess.
Related article by Dan Keppen, Executive Director
Family Farm Alliance
"This was a decent editorial, although I was disappointed that
the editors appear to accept the allegations that have been
made against Julie MacDonald. There is definitely another side
to this story."
There are many interests in
Washington and the national media that are dedicated to
laying blame on the Bush Administration and, by
association, Western farmers and water
users, no matter what the
facts say. The mainstream media’s apparent ready
acceptance of arguments generated by environmental
activists is a growing concern to family farmers and
ranchers, especially when onesided media coverage is
seen as influencing environmental policy that has very
real ramifications for agriculture.
THE RECENT EXAMPLE
of “trial by
media” concerns the tragic and unfair public pillorying
of Julie MacDonald, the former deputy assistant
secretary for fish and wildlife and parks at the U.S.
Department of the Interior. All year long, environmental
groups and their allies in Congress have kept the
pressure on senior officials at the U.S. Department of
the Interior over alleged heavy-handed management of
Endangered Species Act (ESA) administrative issues. Ms.
MacDonald was subjected to particularly withering fire
for allegedly altering scientific field reports to
minimize protections for imperiled species and
disclosing confidential information to private groups
seeking to affect policy decisions.
Department in May after an Inspector General’s (IG)
report appeared to support allegations made by
environmental activists. Those allegations included
charges that she had unreasonably interfered with
scientific findings relative to ESA issues; that she had
conducted herself outside the chain of command by
interacting directly with field personnel; and, in doing
so, she had been heavy-handed with staff. Having
reviewed the ESA decisions in which MacDonald involved
herself, Interior has determined that eight additional
decisions – most in states along the Pacific Coast –
must now be reviewed, and perhaps, reversed or modified.
from around the
country essentially broadcast the claims made by
environmental groups like the Center for Biological
Diversity, painting an unflattering portrait of
MacDonald. Politicians – critics of the Bush
Administration – joined the fray, and on July 31, the
House Natural Resources Committee (“Committee”)
oversight hearing entitled
"Crisis of Confidence:The Political Influence of the
Bush Administration on Agency Science and
Decision-Making." The IG’s report on MacDonald was a key
topic of discussion at the hearing, which also provided
a forum to debate allegations that Vice President Dick
Cheney somehow exerted political influence to help
farmers at the expense of fish in the Klamath River
ALL OF THIS,
Julie MacDonald has remained silent, which has allowed
the charges levied by her critics to go unchallenged. As
a result, those charges are now routinely repeated in
media coverage (which the report was “leaked” to,
without a response from Ms. MacDonald), and now are
routinely reported as facts. But recently, we are
beginning to see others
tell the other side of Julie MacDonald’s story. At the
July 31 congressional oversight hearing, government
witnesses involved with the
investigations were grilled
on the MacDonald matter. Mary Kendall, Deputy Inspector
General for Interior, testified that the Interior
investigation determined that MacDonald did inject
herself personally in a number of ESA issues,
particularly those that had the potential to impact her
home state, California, such as the split tail minnow.
“Overall, the impact of Ms.
MacDonald’s conduct on the Department of the Interior
has been considerable,” said Kendall. “It has cast a
vast cloud over the Department’s scientific integrity.”
HOWEVER, REP. CATHY McMORRIS
and Rep. Chris Cannon (RUTAH)
provided initial suggestions that, perhaps, the entire
MacDonald story had not yet been heard on this matter.
“The American people
deserve to know more about this situation,” said Mrs.
McMorris Rodgers. “I’m sure the public doesn’t know that
this grandmother never had a chance to refute the
allegations levied against her and that there could be
many sides of the story. She has been unfairly called a
future “convict” by a senior member of this Committee
already, but there’s no basis for such irresponsible
talk, especially when the Inspector General found that
she did nothing illegal.”
FOR THE FIRST TIME,
the public discovered that Ms. MacDonald had submitted a
written response to the Interior Department allegations.
After the hearing, it became apparent that questions
lingered in the minds of some regarding Ms. MacDonald’s
ability to address the charges made against her, and how
her input was factored into the IG report. And finally,
five weeks later, at least one newspaper stepped forward
to tell the rest of the story. The Colorado Springs
September 6 presented an editorial that summarizes her
response to the IG and even includes a link to the IG
report and her very thorough response:
piece is balanced and complete. It is relevant to the
paper’s readers because many of them could be impacted
by the proposed de-listing of the Preble’s meadow
jumping mouse, protected under the ESA, which falls
under Interior Department purview.
IN A NUTSHELL,
concludes “she’s been railroaded”.
editorial is an eye-opener, and introduces some key
facts that previous reporters apparently missed:
Macdonald says was never solicited by the IG for an
opportunity to rebut its report.
IG’s report insinuated that MacDonald altered range
estimates for a protected bird,the southwest willow
flycatcher, because a critical habitat designation might
“ranch” in California. But
Ms. MacDonald’s property — which is not a sprawling
“ranch,” but 80 acres of row crops — is nearly 300 miles
from flycatcher habitat.
MacDonald said the law requires that the best available
science be used, but she found the U.S. Fish and
Wildlife Service “did not always consider all the data
often ‘cherry picked’ for
sources and reviewers which supported their position.”
observes that the record may be impossible to set
straight. And it asks a question that everyone who
jumped on the “bash Julie MacDonald” bandwagon should be
pondering: Where does Julie MacDonald go to get her