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LITIGATING POLITICAL CORRUPTION

At the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the agency that implements the Endangered Species Act, the undermining and manipulation of scientific data for the benefit of private interests reached a new height under the Bush administration. By suppressing, twisting, and ignoring information from its own biologists, the administration removed Endangered Species Act protections for at least four species (the cactus ferruginous pygmy owl, gray wolf, West Virginia northern flying squirrel, and desert nesting bald eagle), refused to grant protections to numerous species, such as the Mexican garter snake, Montana fluvial arctic grayling, and the Gunnison’s and greater sage grouse, and withheld essential habitat protection from a long list of vanishing animals and plants. Many of the illegal decisions were engineered by former Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks Julie MacDonald, who resigned in disgrace following a scathing misconduct investigation by Interior’s inspector general. In many cases, government and university scientists carefully documented the unauthorized editing of scientific documents, the overruling of scientific experts, and the falsification of economic analyses.

To combat this anti-wildlife corruption, in 2007 the Center kicked off the biggest endangered species litigation action ever undertaken, a campaign for 55 imperiled species and more than 8 million acres of habitat wrongly denied federal protection because of Bush administration political interference. Since we filed our notice of intent to sue for 55 species in August 2007, we’ve sued to protect 54 species and have met with significant success, winning or settling cases for 46 species — all the completed cases. Eight lawsuits are in progress.

In response to our suits, the Fish and Wildlife Service has agreed to redo critical habitat designations for 26 species, including the California red-legged frog; California tiger salamander; arroyo toad; vermilion darter; Mississippi gopher frog; four New Mexico invertebrates; the Santa Ana sucker; two Southwest fish; and eight plants from California, Oregon, and North Carolina. The newly proposed critical habitat designation for the California red-legged frog totals approximately 1.8 million acres — quadruple the area previously protected. In addition, thanks to a Center petition and two Center lawsuits, the Service reconsidered listing the rare, highly imperiled Mexican garter snake as an endangered species and determined that protection is warranted. Decisions not to list the Gunnison sage grouse, Thorne's hairstreak butterfly, roundtail chub, and Hermes copper butterfly have also been withdrawn, and the Center successfully halted an attempt to delist the threatened marbled murrelet.

We’ll continue to push for better protection of all the animals and plants wronged through illegal Endangered Species Act decisions influenced by MacDonald and other Bush-era bureaucrats. We won’t end our campaign until we’ve ensured that none of these species’ recovery — or the political interference that led to weakened protections — are swept under the carpet.

Mexican garter snake © Phil Rosen