Imperiled Bird a Victim of Politics

Conservation groups challenge removal of Mountain Plover from endangered species list


Robin Cooley, Earthjustice, (303) 996-9611
Lauren McCain, WildEarth Guardians, (303) 573-4898

A bird facing extinction may have lost all federal protection because a disgraced Bush appointee used politics instead of science to influence a decision not to list the mountain plover under the Endangered Species Act.

According to legal action filed today, former Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fish, Wildlife and Parks Julie MacDonald, who manipulated many Endangered Species Act decisions before resigning last year, may have played a key role in federal abandonment of the mountain plover. The plover is found primarily in shortgrass prairies of Rocky Mountain states and California’s Imperial Valley.

Earthjustice, a non-profit environmental law firm, filed the motion on behalf of WildEarth Guardians (formerly Forest Guardians) and Biodiversity Conservation Alliance.

“We believe the federal government is deliberately withholding proof of Julie MacDonald’s involvement in the decision to reverse nearly 20 years of protecting the mountain plover under the Endangered Species Act,” said Robin Cooley, attorney for Earthjustice. “Ms. MacDonald has a history of changing the decisions of her own agency’s scientists based on her own anti-wildlife political agenda.”  

The groups base their suspicions on recently released U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service papers that revealed MacDonald sought information about plover listing decisions in 2003. This occurred just before the agency reversed its long-standing position to list the bird. For more than 20 years, the agency had recognized that the bird was threatened with extinction.

The motion demands that the Fish and Wildlife Service turn over all documents showing how it reached the decision — abruptly — to remove the mountain plover from Endangered Species Act consideration. The motion requests any communications involving Julie MacDonald. These documents are essential for fair review of the legal challenge Earthjustice has filed on behalf of the groups. 

“We fear that it’s no coincidence the mountain plover was suddenly yanked off the Endangered Species Act list at the same time that MacDonald was showing the kind of interest she demonstrated in other listing decisions that doomed so many imperiled species deserving of federal protection,” said Lauren McCain, Desert and Grassland Project Director for WildEarth Guardians.

Some of these species include the white-tailed prairie dog, greater sage grouse, Canada lynx, and Southwestern willow flycatcher. 

Robin Cooley said the groups want to discover how the decision was made and who made it. “We believe this information will strongly guide our future efforts to keep the plover from disappearing from the face of the earth,” said Cooley.

WildEarth Guardians, which has offices in Arizona, Colorado, and New Mexico, protects and restores wildlife, wild rivers, and wild places in the American West. Biodiversity Conservation Alliance is based in Wyoming and protects and restores biological diversity, habitat for wildlife and fish, rare plants, and roadless lands in Wyoming and surrounding states.

Read the motion (PDF)

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