Feds agree to revisit controversial Bush administration decision on Delta fish
Federal regulators have agreed to reconsider a controversial and apparently unprecedented Bush administration decision to remove a Delta fish from the list of protected species.
The 2003 decision to reclassify the Sacramento splittail is believed to be the only time a fish that has not gone extinct has been removed from the list.
Tainting the decision was the involvement of former Bush Administration official Julie MacDonald, who heavily edited the final rule despite her personal stake in the outcome as a landowner in an area near Davis that is affected by the fish's status.
The agreement to revisit the decision was the latest in a string of 47 endangered species decisions that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has agreed to revisit in response to threats of lawsuits by the Center for Biological Diversity, according to the Arizona-based environmental group. The center contends MacDonald and other Bush administration officials improperly weakened 55 endangered species decisions.
"If they do an honest review that's based on the best science, we're pretty confident it will be listed," said Jeff Miller, an environmental advocate with the group.
MacDonald resigned in 2007 after a scathing report by the U.S. Department of Interior's inspector general found she improperly meddled in scientific reports and aided industry groups, among other allegations.
The Contra Costa Times later detailed her involvement and apparent conflict of interest in the splittail decision, which prompted a second report from the inspector general's office that confirmed the Times' findings.
The agency determined that her involvement in the splittail rule came after the key decision was made by the regional director at the time, Steve Thompson, who overruled the recommendations of agency scientists that the fish remain on the list of protected species.
The Fish and Wildlife Service has agreed to review the splittail's status, in part because splittail and other Delta fish populations have plunged in recent years. A proposed finding is due in September.
"We're looking at this as a good opportunity to review the status of the splittail," said service spokesman Steve Martarano. "A lot has changed since that 2003 rule."
Sacramento splittail, a large minnow that can grow to 12 inches, tend to experience dramatic fluctuations in populations — declining severely during dry periods and rebounding just as dramatically when wet years soak floodplains.
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