Friday, March 30, 2007

An inside view of how political appointees in the Interior Department (dis)regard endangered species

Unlike the purged prosecutor stories that started with the firing of the U.S. attorneys in December, 2006, this story about the intentional disregard by certain Department of Interior political appointees of their duty to protect endangered species has been around for several years. I hope this story gets as much attention as the wrongfully fired prosecutors has.

The good news is that we are beginning to hear about this not-so-fresh scandal from the mainstream media.

On March 28, the Los Angeles Times reported, Endangered Species Act changes in the works. A draft, leaked Tuesday at, included changes in the Act which would reduce protection for wildlife habitat and transfer some authority over vulnerable species to states.

On March 30, the Washington Post gave more details about the suggested changes in "Report Faults Interior Appointee –Landowner Issues Trumped Animal Protections, IG Says." The appointee is Julie A. MacDonald, who has “repeatedly altered scientific field reports to minimize protections for imperiled species and disclosed confidential information to private groups seeking to affect policy decisions, the department's inspector general concluded.”

Talking Points Memo picked up on the Washington Post story and ran it as its "Must Read" story. You may recall that TPM is being given credit for digging into what happened with the fired U.S. prosecutors, forcing the mainstream media to finally pay attention to what was really going on in the Department of Justice.

Last week the number two Interior Department political appointee, Steven Griles, admitted to lying (see my March 25 post). And now we have Julie A. MacDonald, deputy assistant for fish and wildlife and parks, who, according to the Washington Post article, “repeatedly instructed Fish and Wildlife scientists to change their recommendations on identifying ‘critical habitats,’ despite her lack of expertise…. MacDonald ‘admitted that her degree is in civil engineering and that she has no formal educational background in natural sciences.’”

I have a friend, Bill Radtkey, (photo) who worked for the Bureau of Land Management, an agency within the Interior Department (as is the Fish and Wildlife Service) for 33 years. He started working with endangered species in 1968. In 1972, he was responsible for the endangered species program for all the BLM-managed land in California, which is a lot of land. In 1980, Bill, and, incidentally, Mr. Reagan, moved to Washington D.C., where Bill managed the nationwide endangered species program for the BLM, which oversees one-eighth of all land in the U.S.

Now retired and living in Ukiah, California, I asked Bill what he thought about the stories that are now coming out about the lack of regard for endangered species by the very agencies charged with protecting them.

He’s concerned about the proposed changes in the Endangered Species Act that would require individual agencies to do their own policing and oversight, with increased responsibility for state governments.

From his experience, Julie A. MacDonald was a typical Interior Department political appointee, an “instant ecologist," adding, “after a 30 minute briefing on a subject they were of equal knowledge with the briefer.” Bill mentioned a recent article revealing that MacDonald sent many of the Fish and Wildlife Service reports to industry officials for editing. Typically the changes were “will” to “might,” “won’t” to “will,” and “likely” to “not likely.”

Bill spent years working on putting together a team and collecting data for protecting the spotted owl. The official report disappeared; Bill had a copy in his computer.

He said, "Few scientists want to work in an environment were scientific evidence has no bearing on decisions. The really good biologists who are the document authors tend to find jobs somewhere else."

Bill described as one of his main allies in the past, and sent me to a link to its October, 2006 press release, Bush Administration Political Appointee Reverses Endangered Species Protections for Wildlife. And yes, the “political appointee” is Julie A. MacDonald. If you don’t check any other links in this post, go to this one and read the whole thing. I’ve signed up for its newsletters.


Ann said...

Gail, I don't remember which environmental magazine I read about Julie A. MacDonald's lead on changing the scientific reports. These were reported, showing both the orginial reports, and the adulterated reports. This was, perhaps, a year or more ago. I was surprised to not see more about the issue at the time.

Apparently sharing of researched material among our environmental groups could use some augmentation. If they were to work together more closely, they would have a larger impact on ferreting out the news and broadcasting it more broadly.
Unfortunately, the current administration contiues to attack without ceasing. I am sure they are hoping that an alert electorate will tire and allow some of these attacks slip through unnoticed.

I have been following (more or less) the challenges the Bush Administration has been putting to the ESA for years now, and continue sending letters to our representatives (although that is preaching to the choir) in order to make my voice heard. This latest attack is no surprise, and we need to stay alert, vocal, and active to prevent any negative changes to the Act.

Gail Jonas said...
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