AWR Blog

by The Associated Press

HELENA, Mont. (AP) – The U.S. Justice Department may soften its stance in a lawsuit by Montana environmental activists who sought certain habitat protections for bull trout.

The threatened species needs clean and cold water, a need that may conflict with logging and mining.

In documents filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Portland, Ore., the department said its reconsideration is based on a Dec. 15 report by the Interior Department’s Inspector General. The inspector concluded that Julie MacDonald, formerly Interior’s deputy assistant secretary, potentially jeopardized the decision making in 13 of 20 habitat cases.

The 13 include the final designation of critical habitat for the bull trout, a decision challenged in court by the Montana-based Alliance for the Wild Rockies and Friends of the Wild Swan.

The Inspector General wrote that many U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service staffers believe that policy decisions by MacDonald resulted in a final critical-habitat rule that was not based on the best available science.

MacDonald resigned in 2007, weeks after an Inspector General’s report concluded that she censored science and mistreated staff. The Interior Department last year reversed seven rulings that denied endangered species increased protection. An investigation found MacDonald had applied political pressure in those cases.

The Justice Department said it will review records in the bull trout case, look anew at its merits and within 45 days, give the court a progress report on the review.

The Alliance for the Wild Rockies and Friends of the Wild Swan criticized the Fish and Wildlife Service’s habitat decision on several fronts, including what the groups said was inadequate protection of federal lands.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press.



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