AWR Blog

Justice Department Informed Federal District Judge that they are Reconsidering their Position in the Bull Trout Critical Habitat Decision

Arlene Montgomery, Friends of the Wild Swan, (406) 886-2011
Michael Garrity, Executive Director, Alliance for the Wild Rockies, (406) 459-5936

The U.S. Justice Department informed the Federal District Court in Portland, Oregon on 12/22/08 that they are reconsidering their position in the bull trout critical habitat case after the Inspector General of the Dept. of the Interior issued its investigative report into whether Julie MacDonald, former Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fish, Wildlife and Parks, interfered with twenty species’ listing or critical habitat designations. [Investigative Report of The Endangered Species Act and the Conflict between Science and Policy – Redacted, December 10th 2008]

The Report concludes that Ms. MacDonald, acting alone or in concert with other Department of the Interior officials, took actions that potentially jeopardized the ESA decisional process in thirteen of the twenty investigated listing and critical habitat actions. Among the thirteen listing and critical habitat designations is the final designation of critical habitat for the bull trout, 70 Fed. Reg. 56212 (Sept. 26, 2005), the rule Alliance for the Wild Rockies and Friends of the Wild Swan challenged in their lawsuit.

The Inspector General (IG) states that, “MacDonald’s zeal to advance her agenda has caused considerable harm to the integrity of the ESA program and to the morale and reputation of the FW, as well as potential harm to individual species. Her heavy handedness has cast doubt on nearly every ESA decision issued during her tenure; of the 20 decisions we reviewed, her influence jeopardized 13 ESA decisions.”

The IG concluded that Julie MacDonald interfered with the designation of critical habitat for bull trout in several instances. She instructed agency biologists to abandon the best available science, to exclude all federal lands and exclude all lands that had any “plan” governing land use whether that plan was adequate or specific to bull trout.

The report summarized her involvement: “We determined that MacDonald was heavily involved with excluding large amounts of areas from the bull trout CHD; she accomplished this goal by making several policy decisions. Many FWS staff whom we interviewed believed MacDonald’s ad hoc policy decisions resulted in a final CHD rule that was not based upon the best available science and was harmful to the recovery of the species.”

Alliance for the Wild Rockies and Friends of the Wild Swan sued over the critical habitat designation alleging similar flaws in the final rule.

“In our first review of the final critical habitat designation for bull trout we knew that this was not science-based,” said Arlene Montgomery, Program Director for Friends of the Wild Swan. “The lack of migratory corridors, lack of protection for federal lands and other exclusions made no sense. That is why we went to court.”

These claims are now bolstered by the agency’s own biologists and staff who said the final rule was nonsensical and defied logic. They had to create arguments supporting MacDonald’s predeterminations to exclude all federal lands.

Michael Garrity, Executive Director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, said, “Sadly, Bull Trout populations continued to decline while Ms. MacDonald was interfering in the designation of critical habitat. She interfered in the economic analysis by inflating the costs attributed to bull trout critical habitat. Many shared costs with other species, such as salmon, were allocated solely to bull trout in the economic analysis.”

Garrity continued, “The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also eliminated all of the benefits of saving bull trout from extinction in their economic analysis. Bull trout need very clean water to survive. Clean water is an obvious economic benefit to people and should have been counted. Their economic analysis was designed to continue the extirpation rather than recovery of bull trout.”

“Sadly, the interference by political appointees in Endangered Species Act decisions cost the taxpayers money and further imperiled species that desperately need protection,” Montgomery said.


Report (36MB pdf)

Government Letter to Court



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