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Documents Reveal Political Meddling in Murrelet Decision

Julie MacDonald insisted on last minute changes to undermine bird's protected status
October 24, 2007
Seattle, WA —

Previously undisclosed documents released as a result of a Freedom of Information Act request (see links below) provide proof that Julie MacDonald, a now-retired official in the Bush Interior Department, interfered with scientific findings in a biological status report issued in 2004.


In response, Earthjustice, on behalf of eight conservation groups, today sent a letter to the Fish and Wildlife Service demanding that the agency withdraw the invalid status review for the marbled murrelet.


"The documents reveal that Ms. McDonald inserted her political goals into a scientific review about the survival of a threatened species," observed Kristen Boyles of Earthjustice. "Her goal appears to have been to pave the way for increased old-growth logging in Washington, Oregon, and California."


Marbled murrelets are small seabirds that nest in coastal old-growth forests in the Pacific Northwest. First protected in 1992 due primarily to logging of their old-growth habitat, marbled murrelets in Washington, Oregon, and California are listed as a threatened species.


During the status review of the species, Ms. MacDonald weighed in from headquarters at the Department of Interior in Washington, DC, in a series of emails. Among other things, she questioned the validity of scientific documents, urged that logging industry supplied data be considered equally, and ultimately rewrote the opinion of agency biologists -- changing a conclusion that affirmed the need to protect the tri-state population of murrelets to a conclusion that found that murrelets in Washington, Oregon, and California did not deserve protection. This reversal came only one day before the final status review was released.


Although the murrelet remains protected today, its situation is precarious. Recent demographic models indicated that populations in Washington, Oregon, and California could be extinct within 50 years. Despite this evidence, the invalid status review has provided the logging industry with ammunition to seek reduced murrelet habitat protection and delisting of the marbled murrelet. Combined with other actions, such as the drive to remove Bureau of Land Management lands in Oregon from the science-based Northwest Forest Plan, these actions threaten to overturn 20 years of conservation policy in the Pacific Northwest.


In July, FWS announced that it would reopen eight Endangered Species Act decisions where Ms. MacDonald improperly interfered with the science. The murrelet status review was initially part of that list, but was removed at the last minute.


"Political appointees in Washington, D.C. dictated whether our murrelets deserved protection," Boyles said. "If FWS wants to regain some of its credibility as a science-based agency, it must withdraw the murrelet status review."


The conservation groups asking FWS to withdraw the status review are Conservation Northwest, Oregon Wild, The Wilderness Society, Seattle Audubon Society, Sierra Club, EPIC, Center for Biological Diversity, and Audubon Society of Portland.



Materials

Summary and excerpts from the FOIA documents


Read the full original FOIA documents


Conservation groups' letter to Interior demanding the agency withdraw the invalid status review for the marbled murrelet 

Contacts

Kristen Boyles, Earthjustice, (206) 343-7340, ext. 33

About Earthjustice

Earthjustice is the premier nonprofit environmental law organization. We wield the power of law and the strength of partnership to protect people’s health, to preserve magnificent places and wildlife, to advance clean energy, and to combat climate change. We are here because the earth needs a good lawyer.