21, 2008: GAO Discovers
Bush Administration Meddling in Species Listing Decisions Extends beyond
MacDonald Robin M.
Nazzaro, Director of Natural Resources and Environment for the Government
Accountability Office, testified to Congress today that Bush Administration
interference in Endangered Species Act decisionmaking extends beyond former
Deputy Assistant Secretary Julie MacDonald.
Government Accountability Office, "U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ESA Decision Making"
Salt Lake Tribune Endangered species will have to 'cling to life' until Bush administration exits, says
E&E News PM Political influence may be wider than MacDonald -- GAO (5/21/08)
New York Times The Board: The latest environmental victims: the polar bear and the sage grouse
May 1, 2007: Deputy Assistant Secretary Julie MacDonald resigns from her position at the Department of the Interior! Her resignation comes just eight days before a Congressional oversight committee hearing on political interference by Bush Administration officials in scientific decisionmaking. Washington Post Documents received by the Sagebrush Sea Campaign indicate that MacDonald manipulated listing decisions for both the greater and Gunnison sage-grouse in recent years.
Idaho Mountain Express (Editorial) Treachery at Interior (5/4/07)
Jackson Hole News and Guide Report: grouse data skewed (5/9/07)
The U.S. Department of Interior (DOI) Office of Inspector General (IG) has published a report of its investigation of Julie MacDonald, a political appointee who serves as DOI Deputy Assistant Secretary of Fish, Wildlife and Parks. The IG's report confirms media accounts and evidence in the public record that MacDonald "has been heavily involved with editing, commenting on, and reshaping … scientific reports" (IG Report, p. 2) used by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) Endangered Species Program in Endangered Species Act (ESA) listing decisions. The IG also found that MacDonald violated federal regulations by providing nonpublic information concerning species listings and critical habitat to industry lobbyists and other private individuals. The New York Times and Washington Post reported on the IG's findings.
Sierra Club magazine published evidence of Deputy Assistant Secretary Julie MacDonald's interference in Endangered Species Act listing decisions, including for the Gunnison sage-grouse.
10,600 scientists have signed a letter protesting political interference by the Bush Administration in scientific decisionmaking. (Dec. 12, 2007)
Biologist Noah Greenwald published an opinion-editorial in the Denver Post describing political interference by Deputy Assistant Secretary Julie MacDonald and others in Endangered Species Act listing decisions. (Dec. 3, 2007)
Significant media coverage followed publication of the article in the Washington Post revealing Deputy Assistant Secretary Julie MacDonald's involvement in Endangered Species Act listing decisions. (Oct. 30 - Nov. 13, 2007)
November 13, 2006
The Gunnison Country Times published a comprehensive article on the Bush Administration's interference in the Endangered Species Act listing decision for Gunnison sage-grouse. Part 1 Part 2
The acting Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks offered a lame defense of the Bush Administration's management of the ESA in a letter to the editor in the Washington Post, while Jamie Rappaport Clark, former Director of the Fish and Wildlife Service, submitted her own letter criticizing Julie MacDonald, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks, for interfering in important species listing decisions.
Rep. Jay Inslee sent a letter to the Inspector General of the Department of the Interior requesting an investigation into the manipulation of species listing decisions by political appointees in the Bush Administration.
And after Democrats take over Congress in 2007, Rep. Nick Rahall has promised to hold oversight hearings on meddling in species listings decisions by Bush Administration officials, including Julie MacDonald.
October 30, 2006
ADMINISTRATION OFFICIALS REVERSE ENDANGERED SPECIES
from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reveal that Bush Administration
officials reversed the agency's (FWS) recommendation to list Gunnison
sage-grouse as "endangered" under the Endangered Species Act
(ESA). The Washington Post
reported the Bush Administration's interference in the Gunnison sage-grouse
listing decision and other species listings today.
After exhaustive scientific study,
FWS field and regional staff were prepared to publish a draft rule to
list Gunnison sage-grouse as "endangered" under the ESA and
recommend designation of critical habitat for the species in September
2005. The agency even
drafted a media release to announce the proposed listing rule
However, the listing decision for Gunnison sage-grouse was delayed
and then reversed by U.S. Department of the Interior Assistant Secretary
Julie MacDonald and other Department of the Interior (DOI) officials in
Washington, DC. MacDonald also previously
manipulated the "not warranted" listing determination for greater
"The science supports protecting
Gunnison sage-grouse under the Endangered Species Act and agency biologists
did their job by recommending listing for the species," said Mark
Salvo, director of the Sagebrush Sea Campaign. "But political science
has trumped ecological science again, and the Gunnison sage-grouse will
pay the price."
Additional information on Gunnison sage-grouse is available
on the Sagebrush Sea Campaign website at www.sagebrushsea.org/sp_gunnison_grouse.htm.The
The Gunnison sage-grouse (Centrocercus minimus)
is a distinct species from greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus),
identified by researchers in the 1970s and recognized as a new species
by the American Ornithologists' Union in 2000. While its historic range
included parts of Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, and Arizona, the species
now occurs only in small, isolated populations in southwestern Colorado
and southeastern Utah. The current range of Gunnison sage-grouse represents
about 8.5 percent of its historic range.
Gunnison sage-grouse are smaller than greater sage-grouse,
and have distinct genetic, physical and behavioral characteristics.
Like the greater sage-grouse, the Gunnison sage-grouse is known for
its impressive mating ritual. The Gunnison sage-grouse mating display
includes unique visual and acoustical patterns that do not occur in
greater sage-grouse. Gunnison sage-grouse males have more noticeable
white barring in their sharply pointed tail feathers (retrices), which
are also longer than are those of greater sage-grouse. Gunnison sage-grouse
males also have longer, thicker filoplumes (hairlike feathers extending
back from the nape of the neck) than greater sage-grouse males, which
they use more conspicuously by tossing them above their heads during
Gunnison sage-grouse populations have declined between
42 and 90 percent over the last 50 years. Livestock grazing, drought,
motorized recreation, and poor land use planning threaten the species'
continued existence. West Nile virus, a disease that is fatal to greater
sage grouse, has also been discovered in Gunnison sage-grouse range.
The current population of Gunnison sage-grouse is estimated at 3,000-6,000
Gunnison Sage-grouse Endangered Species Act Listing
In January 2000 conservationists submitted a petition
to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to list the Gunnison sage-grouse
as "endangered' under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). FWS designated
the grouse as a "Candidate Species" in 2000, but otherwise
refused to list the species as "threatened" or "endangered"-even
though the agency concurred with petitioners that Gunnison sage-grouse
are highly imperiled. Various FWS "Candidate and Listing Priority
Assignment" forms, "Notice of Candidate Designation,"
and "Candidate Notices of Review" published between 2000-2005
documented that Gunnison sage-grouse are threatened by ongoing habitat
loss, fragmentation, and degradation caused by numerous human activities
and inadequate regulatory mechanisms to prevent habitat loss, and that
the species warrants listing under the ESA. In 2004, FWS elevated the
Candidate Species "Listing Priority Number" for Gunnison sage-grouse
from a "5" to a "2." A listing priority of "2"
means that threats to the species are of a "high" magnitude,
and that listing is "imminent."
After five years of litigation by petitioners, FWS finally
relented and agreed to consider the Gunnison sage-grouse for listing
under the ESA. In a memorandum to the FWS Director dated July 2, 2004,
the (acting) FWS Regional Director, Region 6 (Denver) stated that Gunnison
sage-grouse is among the "three highest priority candidates in
our Region [for listing]" and proposed publishing a draft rule
to list the grouse as "threatened" or "endangered"
under the ESA on September 2, 2005, and a final listing rule for the
species on September 1, 2006. Document
The Role of U.S. Department of the Interior Officials
(Washington, D.C.) in Delaying the FWS Listing Decision for Gunnison
Beginning in March 2005, FWS biologists in Colorado, with
the assistance of other regional and FWS field staff and FWS sage grouse
experts, prepared multiple drafts of a proposed rules to list Gunnison
sage-grouse under the ESA. As required by the ESA, FWS also drafted
and mapped proposed "critical habitat" for the species encompassing
as many as 923,514 acres. By July 2005, and only after significant vetting
by FWS biologists and field staff, the agency produced a draft rule
to list Gunnison sage-grouse as "endangered" (Document
the agency developed media materials to announce the proposed "endangered"
listing in September 2005 (Document
and a briefing prepared for the FWS Regional Director reminded him that
"Gunnison sage-grouse is one of R6's highest priorities for listing"
and that the agency "received funding to list in FY05." Document
There was significant momentum within the agency to propose the Gunnison
sage-grouse for listing as "endangered" under the ESA in September
2005, and, in the words of an agency sage grouse biologist, FWS was
"definitely making the right call" in proposing ESA listing
for the species. Document
A Gunnison Country Times article later recalled that an FWS official
indicated the agency would recommend listing for the Gunnison sage-grouse
under the ESA in autumn 2005. Document
As is often the case under the current Administration,
in the final weeks leading up to the proposed ESA listing for Gunnison
sage-grouse, U.S. Department of Interior (DOI) officials in Washington,
D.C., injected themselves into the decisionmaking process and derailed
the agency's plans to protect the species under the act. They include
Julie MacDonald, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and
Parks (FWP) in the Department of the Interior and Chris Nolin, Chief
of the Division of Conservation and Classification for the Fish and
Wildlife Service. Records received from FWS indicate that MacDonald
ratcheted up her involvement in the listing decision for Gunnison sage-grouse
beginning in July 2005 after receiving three telephone calls, including
one from a governor (probably then-Governor Owens, Colorado [R]), concerning
FWS' preparation of the proposed rule to list the grouse as "endangered."
To delay the proposed listing, MacDonald first attacked
the science that identified Gunnison sage-grouse as a distinct species.
If she could show Gunnison sage-grouse are not a separate species from
greater sage-grouse, then FWS would not be obligated to protect it under
the ESA (because there are many more greater sage-grouse in the West).
MacDonald requested a copy of the original listing petition and inquired
about the genetics work done to distinguish Gunnison sage-grouse as
a separate species. Document
By August 23, 2005, she was apparently questioning morphological data
that supported Gunnison sage-grouse as a separate species (i.e., that
Gunnison sage-grouse do not appear any different from greater sage-grouse).
A FWS biologist may have been wary of how MacDonald might affect the
agency's plan for listing Gunnison sage-grouse when he wrote the following
day that "taxonomy, PECE [FWS Policy for Evaluating Conservation
Efforts], threats will all be targeted by Julie M." Document
On August 24, 2005 (the same day that the biologist expressed
his concerns about MacDonald's influence on the listing process), a
department e-mail stated that "since some questions have been raised
about justification for Gunnison sage grouse being a valid species,
Chris Nolin suggested we have an expert within the Service look at the
scientific data to see if we think it supports the conclusions."
While it is unclear what caused FWS to miss its September 2005 deadline
for the draft listing rule, MacDonald's involvement in the decisionmaking
process and her questioning of the taxonomy of Gunnison sage-grouse
were probably partially responsible. Now, with the agency delaying publication
of a listing determination to March 2006, MacDonald, Nolin and others
had time to change the agency's listing decision entirely.
The Role of U.S. Department of the Interior Officials
(Washington, D.C.) in Reversing the FWS Listing Decision for Gunnison
FWS biologists and field staff continued to work on a
draft listing rule for Gunnison sage-grouse ("endangered,"
but some drafts also recommended "threatened") and the FWS
expert that MacDonald and Nolin requested to review the taxonomy of
Gunnison sage-grouse (Document
confirmed that Gunnison sage-grouse are a distinct species ("I
believe that the Gunnison sage-grouse is a listable entity in the sense
that it meets he definition of 'species' under the Endangered Species
However, MacDonald was still not satisfied. FWS documents indicate that
Dr. Rob R. Ramey II* told her in
October 2005 that Gunnison sage-grouse are not a distinct species (Document
and she continued to question the species validity throughout the decisionmaking
process (see below; also Document
The field and regional office in Colorado finally submitted
an abridged draft listing rule to the FWS Washingon (D.C.) Office for
review in November 2005. The Washington Office responded that the field
office needed to substantially revise their submission by further reducing
it to a mere outline of information presented in the listing rule-which
could only be accomplished by removing much of the text that supported
listing the Gunnison sage-grouse under the ESA. Document
Within a week the field staff had joined regional and Washington Office
staff on a conference call to discuss the "prudency of listing"
Gunnison sage-grouse based not on the comprehensive document that agency
biologists and field staff had drafted over the past eight months, but
"on [the] new outline" that lacked much of the information
that supported listing. Document
A Region 6 official again reminded field staff that it must shorten
the outline because the Washington, D.C., staff does not want to "wade
through [an] exhaustive list again." Document
The outline presented to the Washington Office by Region 6 was significantly
reduced from the more detailed drafts of the listing rule. Document
Based on the shortened outline-and contrary to the recommendations
of FWS biologists, sage grouse experts, and field staff-DOIA and the
FWS Washington Office decided not to list the Gunnison sage-grouse as
"threatened" or "endangered" under the ESA. Document
The Washington Office essentially set up the "not warranted"
determination over the course of two weeks in November 2005 by refusing
to consider the details that supported listing Gunnison sage-grouse
under the ESA. "[Washington Office] doesn't see where threats add
up; litigation risk on equal side."
"WO will re-craft outline to support removal." Document 69.
By deciding to withdraw the Gunnison sage-grouse from consideration
as a threatened or endangered species, FWS would also remove the grouse
from the Candidate Species list, which was also contrary to the agency's
position on Gunnison sage-grouse since 2000.
Julie MacDonald immersed herself in the process of rewriting
the not warranted determination. She requested Dr. Rob Ramey to again
review the taxonomy of Gunnison sage-grouse (Document
and he reported that the species designation is questionable (Documents
[Documents 490 and 491 were obtained from the Endangered
Species & Wetlands Report, which also posted other emails between
MacDonald and Ramey and MacDonald here.] The Washington Office
reviewed and edited multiple drafts of the not warranted determination
("WO review taking more time than expected") (Document
and field biologists wondered how to "explain why prof[essional]
judgment gets to where to we got to" [sic] not listing the Gunnison
sage-grouse and removing the species from the Candidate Species list.
In the final days before FWS published the not warranted
listing determination on April 18, 2006, FWS biologists made a last
attempt to honor science in the decision document by responding and
refuting significant comments and edits by Julie MacDonald and Tom Graf
(DOI attorney, Denver) to the draft "not warranted" determination.
FWS biologists and field staff opposed MacDonald's questioning of Gunnison
sage-grouse taxonomy ("The species designation issue is one that
should NOT be questioned" (Document
MacDonald's removal of the species description from the draft determination
MacDonald's editing and removal of text describing the historic range
of Gunnison sage-grouse (Document
MacDonald's challenges to the veracity and accuracy of certain literature
cited (Document 261
and MacDonald's removal of text describing habitat loss and threats
to Gunnison sage-grouse. Document
MacDonald continued to edit the determination until it
was published in the Federal Register. (Document
and the final version out of her office, in the words on one FWS official,
included "a disturbing sentence on P7 regarding the validity of
the [Gunnison sage-grouse] taxon." Document