Monday, October 30, 2006


During the past six years, many of us have suspected that the Bush administration was dragging its heals when it came to protecting endangered species. Despite the show of support for the ivory-billed woodpecker, in most cases administration officials declined to act on requests for protection under the Endangered Species Act, especially where such protection would conflict with the interests of powerful donors. We thought that this was another case of ideology impeding reality-based policy. Now, thanks to the Freedom of Information Act, there is some documentation for this suspicion.

Julie MacDonald, the deputy assistant secretary of the interior for fish and wildlife and parks, has blocked requests from scientists on the interior staff to protect species such as the Gunnison Sage Grouse. In many cases she criticized their reports for not taking sufficient account of complaints by land owners and others who wanted to use public lands that were needed by the declining species.

MacDonald said that she does not make the decision on whether to federally protect a species, because the head of the Fish and Wildlife Service has that responsibility. But MacDonald said that she had made her feelings clear in an array of documents; overruled scientists' conclusions in areas where she has authority, such as designating critical habitat; and mocked rank-and-file employees' recommendations....

"A lot of times when I first read a document I think, 'This is a joke, this is just not right.' So I'll ask questions,' " said MacDonald, a civil engineer by training who worked at the California Resources Agency before joining the Interior Department in 2002. "These documents have tremendous economic and social implications for people."

The result is that the Bush administration has designated far fewer species under the Endangered Species Act than the two previous administrations: about 10 per year, compared to 64 per year under Clinton and 59 per year under the first Bush. The decline has certainly not been because of a lack of species to consider. The Red Knot, for example, has suffered a catastrophic decline in the past decade and yet has been unable to make the list. Instead, as the linked article makes clear, political appointees at the top are exhibiting undue deference to industry.