For Immediate Release, May 17, 2007
Contact: Kieran Suckling, Policy Director, (520) 275-5960
Memos: Bureaucrats Overrule Scientists on
Desert Nesting Bald Eagle Delisting
Scientists: “We have marching orders… We’ve been given an answer,
now we need to find an analysis that works.”
TUCSON, Ariz.— Government memos obtained by the Center for Biological Diversity under the Freedom of Information Act show that highly placed U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service bureaucrats overruled agency scientists who concluded that the desert-nesting bald eagle should remain on the endangered species list. The scientists were ordered to fabricate analyses to support politically determined decisions and ignore scientific information contradicting the bureaucrat’s decision.
“There is no end to endangered species scandals in the Bush administration,” said Kieran Suckling, policy director of the Center for Biological Diversity. “Science and scientists are being suppressed everywhere you look. It’s outrageous.”
The memos indicate direct political intervention by Ren Lohoefener, assistant director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Benjamin Tuggle, director of the Southwest Regional Office, as well as possible indirect intervention by Julie MacDonald, the former Assistant Deputy Secretary of Interior who recently resigned in a hail of endangered species scandals.
The Center has requested that U.S. Attorney for Arizona Criminal Division Chief Ann Harwood investigate the violations. The Arizona Republic reported today that Harwood has forwarded the complaint to an investigative agency.
On August 30, 2006, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service rejected a scientific petition by the Center for Biological Diversity and the Maricopa Audubon Society to retain the desert-nesting bald eagle on the endangered species list. While conservationists and scientists support the national delisting proposal, they have called for retaining protections for the small Arizona population of just 39 breeding pairs until it grows into a large, self-sustaining population.
On May 16, 2005, Doug Krofta, chief of the Fish and Wildlife Service listing program in Washington, D.C., apparently communicating the policy of Julie MacDonald, ordered agency scientists to use information in the agency’s files that refutes listing petitions while ignoring all information that supports them. Implementing the order, the bald eagle decision falsely concluded that there was no substantial information to support retaining the Arizona population as an endangered species. In fact, continued protection was recommended by the former head of the desert eagle’s multi-agency recovery program on June 17, 2006 and the agency’s own seven-member scientific peer review team on August 11, 2006.
“The suppression of these critical scientific documents is a gross, but all-too-familiar violation of the Endangered Species Act,” said Suckling. “The Bush government will go down in history as the most anti-environmental, anti-science presidency in the modern era.”
On February 21, 2006, U.S. Fish and Wildlife biologists prepared a lengthy review of the petition, concluding that it provided substantial information that the eagle met the three Endangered Species Act tests of being endangered, discrete, and significant. On April 4, 2006, they were informed that Benjamin Tuggle, southwest regional director, had nonetheless decided to reject the petition.
Agency biologists argued against the conclusion in a July 18, 2006 meeting, but were told that Assistant National Director Ren Lohoefener had already decided that the petition would be rejected. Chris Nolan, chief of the Agency’s Conservation and Classification program, explained: “Ben [Tuggle] and Ren have reached a policy call & we need to support…Not in a position of debating.” Doug Krofta responded to a biologist’s objection saying: “We’ve been given an answer, now we need to find an analysis that works.” Sarah Quamme of the Albuquerque Regional Office responded to another scientist’s objection by saying, “We have marching orders.”
Background & Memo Citations
October 6, 2004. Center for Biological Diversity and Maricopa Audubon Society petition the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to retain the Desert Nesting Bald Eagle on the endangered species list in Arizona and adjacent areas in California and Mexico.
5-16-05 Meeting Notes: “Can use info from files that refutes petitions, but not anything that supports, per Doug.”
2-21-06 Summary Outline of Petition
“The petition utilizes numerous scientific publications, peer-reviewed articles, status reviews and reports, and other agency documents thoroughly documenting the status and trend, and potential threats to the species.”
[The petition asserts] “[t]he population segment is markedly separated from other populations of the same taxon as a consequence of physical, physiological, ecological, or behavioral factors. No information in files refutes…Information appears to be substantial.”
[The petition asserts the AZ population is significant because] “The desert nesting bald eagle persists in the unique ecological setting of the Sonoran life zones of the desert southwest. No information in files refutes. Information appears to be substantial.”
[The petition asserts the AZ population is significant because] “For more than 20 years, USFWS has recognized the fact that the Southwest represents a significant portion of the Bald Eagle range. It follows logically then that loss of the Desert Nesting population would result in a significant gap in the range of the Bald eagle. No information in files refutes. Information appears to be substantial.”
4-4-06 Meeting Notes: “Benjamin [Tuggle, Southwest Regional Director, Albuquerque] and Steven [Chambers, Southwest Regional Office] don’t agree with DPS. Debora asked what they would like.”
7-18-06 Meeting Notes:
Sarah Quamme, Albuquerque Regional office: “Field recommendation likely won’t match end result. Not a reach to get substantial finding.”
Quamme: “No information to refute [the petition] at 90-day stage.”
Doug Krofta, chief of USFWS listing program, D.C.: “Ren [Lohoefener, D.C.] told Steve [Spangle, head of AZ office] it won’t come out positive.”
Chris Nolan, chief of USFWS Conservation and Classification program, D.C.: “DPS largely a policy call. Ben [Tuggle] and Ren have reached a policy call & we need to support.”
Quamme: “Add analysis & not have answer. Answer has to be that it is not a DPS.”
Nolan: “Not in a position of debating. They’ll talk to Ren about distinctiveness thing. Tell him we can get to not significant.”
Glen: “Not understanding logic on”
Krofta: “We’ve been given an answer, now we need to find an analysis that works.”
Greg Beatty, AZ: “1st det[ermine] it’s a recovery region & now det[ermine] its not significant. Doesn’t seem consistent. Some value attached to its importance or significance. Not consistent.”
Quamme: “We have marching orders.”
Doug: “Due to Ren tomorrow. Need something by end of week in W.O. To DOI by next Wednesday”
June 17, 2006, Memo by Robert Magill, former head of the Arizona multi-agency bald eagle recovery program: "Therefore, the bald eagle should continue to be protected as a threatened species in the Southwest until realistic delisting goals can be established and obtained…the conclusion that the bald eagle in the Southwestern Recovery Region no longer needs protection from the Endangered Species Act is incorrect. The bald eagle is still threatened in the Southwestern Recovery Region, across the broader Southwest portion of its range (the area which influences the status of the Southwestern Recovery Region), and current protection are not adequate to protect the bird and its habitat."
August 11, 2006, Memo by Seven Member Scientific Peer-Review Panel: "(T)he Southwest population appears to be less viable than populations in other parts of the country and may not warrant delisting at this time…We continue to be concerned about the viability of the Southwest population of Bald Eagles based on the low number of breeding pairs, relatively low productivity, relatively high adult mortality, and threats of habitat alteration and human disturbance…(W)e do not believe that the Southwest Bald Eagle population is secure, and we question whether even current numbers can be sustained without active management and habitat protection. USFWS may wish to reconsider the possibilities of designating the Southwest recovery region as a Distinct Population Segment (DPS) and deferring delisting of the Southwest population until data are available that demonstrate the population is sufficiently large and self-sustaining."
August 30, 2006. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service rejects listing petition, asserting there is no scientific information indicating that the Desert Nesting Bald Eagle should be retained on the endangered species list.