For Immediate Release, June 5, 2008
Contact: David Hogan, (619) 473-8217
Settlement Reached in Lawsuit Over Bush Official's
Endangered Species Interference
Federal Wildlife Agency Will Revisit Habitat Protection
Decision For Endangered California Amphibian
WASHINGTON, D.C.— The Center for Biological Diversity has reached a settlement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service under which the agency has agreed to revisit a grossly flawed 2005 decision to protect “critical habitat” for the arroyo toad, a decision tainted with political interference by notorious Bush administration official Julie MacDonald.
According to the agreement, a new proposal for critical habitat is due in October 2009 with a final new decision due by October 2010.
“Habitat loss is the number-one threat to arroyo toads and other endangered species,” said David Hogan, conservation manager at the Center. “Endangered animals and plants won’t survive unless we protect the wild places where they live.”
Today’s settlement resolves the first of several lawsuits brought as part of a broader effort by the Center to challenge political corruption harming 55 endangered species and cutting more than 8.5 million acres of wildlife habitat. The Center filed lawsuits challenging habitat decisions for 19 species in late 2007.
Many of the flawed decisions were engineered by Julie MacDonald, the disgraced former deputy assistant secretary of the Interior who resigned in May 2007 following a scathing report by the inspector general. Other decisions were ordered by her boss, Assistant Secretary of the Interior Craig Manson, his special assistant Randal Bowman, and Ruth Solomon in the White House Office of Management and Budget. The inspector general is currently conducting an investigation into political meddling in scientific decisions by MacDonald and other high-level officials in the Department of the Interior and the Fish and Wildlife Service. In November 2007 the Service admitted that decisions for seven species, including that regarding the arroyo toad’s critical habitat, should be revised but has failed to establish its own timeline or put in place any protective interim measures. In May 2008 the Government Accounting Office found that the Service’s internal review did not consider either decisions made by Interior officials other than Ms. MacDonald or other policy decisions that limited the application of science.
“Federal scientists are doing their best to save endangered species but are overruled at every turn by Bush administration bureaucrats,” said Hogan. “The political problems in the Department of Interior run much deeper than MacDonald. Julie MacDonald and Craig Manson are the symptoms and the Bush administration is the disease.”
Originally listed as endangered in 1994, the arroyo toad has lost three-quarters of its historic habitat to development in central and Southern California. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service published a proposed rule to designate 478,400 acres of critical habitat in June 2000 and finalized the decision with just 182,360 acres in January 2001. In response to an industry lawsuit, the agency reproposed 138,713 acres in April 2004 and finalized the decision with just 11,695 acres in April 2005, a reduction of 98 percent. Internal documents reveal that agency scientists bitterly complained about political interference in the decision.
The designation of critical habitat is an important tool to recover imperiled species under the Endangered Species Act. A peer-reviewed study in the April 2005 issue of BioScience, The Effectiveness of the Endangered Species Act: A Quantitative Analysis, concludes that species with critical habitat for two or more years are more than twice as likely to have improving population trends than species without.
The arroyo toad is a small, dark-spotted amphibian that utilizes California streams and riverside forests for reproduction, foraging, and dispersal. The species was widely distributed from the Salinas River near Monterey south to San Diego prior to European settlement. Fewer than 30 populations remain as a result of dam construction, agriculture, and urbanization.
Please visit the Center’s Web page for a copy of the settlement agreement and more information on the arroyo toad:
The Center for Biological Diversity is a nonprofit conservation organization with more than 40,000 members dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.