For Immediate Release, December 19, 2007
Contact: Mike Senatore, (301) 466-0774
Suit Filed to Protect 13 Species in Four States Seeks to
Restore 4.2 Million Acres of Protected Habitat Slashed by
Julie MacDonald, Other Bureaucrats
WASHINGTON, DC— The Center for Biological Diversity and other groups filed lawsuits today challenging the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s refusal to properly designate and protect critical habitat areas for 13 endangered species in Oregon, California, New Mexico, and North Carolina. The suits are 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 group filed simultaneous lawsuits challenging six other decisions in November.
Today’s lawsuits challenge the slashing of 4,223,036 acres of critical habitat for the California red-legged frog, arroyo toad, three plants in California, and four invertebrates in New Mexico, as well as the failure to even consider critical habitat protection for four additional plants in California, Oregon, and North Carolina.
Many of the flawed decisions in today’s 13 suits were engineered by Julie MacDonald, the disgraced former deputy assistant secretary of the interior who resigned in March following a scathing report by the inspector general. The Government Accountability Office and the inspector general are currently conducting investigations 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.
“Habitat loss is the number-one killer of endangered species,” said Michael Senatore, senior counsel at the Center for Biological Diversity. “These species won’t survive unless we protect their habitat. Julie MacDonald is an endangered-species Death Star. Her overruling of scientists is inexcusable.
“The red-legged frog, arroyo toad, and golden sedge have evolved over millions of years,” added Senatore. “It is immoral to sacrifice them for political gain. Federal scientists are doing their best to save endangered species but are overruled at every turn by Bush-administration bureaucrats.
“The political problems in the Department of Interior run much deeper than MacDonald. The agency has descended into a culture of corruption, the likes of which I’ve never seen before,” Senatore concluded.
Today’s suits were filed by attorneys at the Center for Biological Diversity and Earthjustice. Forest Guardians is a co-plaintiff in the New Mexico invertebrates case.
California red-legged frog: Made famous in Mark Twain’s story “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County,” the California red-legged frog has lost more than 70 percent of its historic habitat to nearly every imaginable threat, from urbanization to exotic-species invasion. It is believed extinct in the Central Valley and 99-percent extirpated from its Sierra Nevada range. The Fish and Wildlife Service listed the species as threatened in 1996 and published a proposed rule to designate 4,138,064 acres of critical habitat in April 2004. The Service published a revised proposal to designate only 737,912 acres in November 2005 and finalized the rule with just 450,288 acres designated in April 2006 — a 90-percent reduction of the original proposed rule.
In its June 2007 regional review of decisions potentially tainted by Julie MacDonald, the California/Nevada Operations office of the Fish and Wildlife Service declared that the frog decision was invalid and should be redone. Director Dale Hall, in a memo to Assistant Secretary of the Interior Lynn Scarlett, confirmed the decision as one “that should be re-evaluated.”
Complaint for the California red-legged frog.
Arroyo toad: The arroyo toad, listed as endangered in 1994, has lost three-quarters of its historic habitat to development and degradation of its riparian habitat in central and southern California. The 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 to designate 138,713 acres in April 2004 and finalized the decision with just 11,695 acres in April 2005, a reduction of 98 percent.
Fish and Wildlife Service scientists bitterly complained about interference in Julie MacDonald’s designation:
Now that the AT fCH (=arroyo toad final critical habitat) has been published, it is being covered in the media. Not surprisingly, some people and organizations are dismayed by the extent of the exclusions…We felt a lot of pressure during the last few months of drafting the final rule to reduce the total cost and therefore acreage… We also felt pressure to justify all of the acreage we had proposed… However the scrutiny is not from scientific peers in this case and the approach to critical habitat by DOI [Department of Interior] leads to some ways of doing things that make biologists uneasy. For example, DOI (i.e. Julie M.) has a very narrow definition of "occupied habitat" . . . this led to removing all areas > .7 mile above the uppermost AT observation . . .It seems to me the era of erring on the side of the species is clearly over; the burden of proof is on us. The other somewhat bizarre unofficial guidance we have that makes no biological sense to me is that we should base boundaries on average numbers (e.g. average distances moved). Does that mean we should protect the amount of space the average toad uses? If this were ever equated to protecting 1/2 the area used by toads, or the area needed to sustain 50% of a population, then we would eventually lose most populations over time (the guidance is not clear)."
— Email by Creed Clayton to Rick Farris, 4/15/05.
Complaint for the arroyo toad.
Map of critical habitat, proposed and final.
Spreading navarretia and thread-leaved brodiaea: The spreading navarretia and thread-leaved brodiaea, listed as threatened species in 1998, occur only in southern California and have lost nearly 90 percent of their vernal pool habitat to fragmentation, development, and destruction. Fish and Wildlife Service scientists proposed to designate 31,086 acres of critical habitat for the navarretia and 4,690 acres for the brodiaea in 2004. The final decision in 2005 slashed the navarretia habitat to 652 acres and the brodiaea habitat to just 597 acres, reductions of 98 and 87 percent, respectively.
Complaint for the spreading navarretia and thread-leaved brodiaea.
Lane Mountain milk-vetch: The Lane Mountain milk-vetch is native to dry, sandy soils in California’s Mohave Desert and was listed as an endangered species in 1998. Fish and Wildlife scientists proposed to designate 29,522 acres of critical habitat for it in April 2004, but when the rule was finalized in June 2005, agency bureaucrats deleted 100 percent of the proposal, leaving the milk-vetch with no critical habitat.
Complaint for the Lane Mountain milk-vetch.
San Diego ambrosia: San Diego ambrosia, endemic to San Diego County, declined from 49 populations in 1998 to just 15 in 2002. Although the Endangered Species Act requires the designation of critical habitat areas at the time species are placed on the endangered list, the Fish and Wildlife Service has refused to establish critical habitat for the plant.
Cook’s lomatium and large-flowered woolly meadowfoam: Listed as endangered species in 2002, these two plants are found in Oregon’s Jackson and Josephine counties. Destruction of their vernal pool habitat from development, agriculture, herbicides, and non-native species remains their primary threat. The Fish and Wildlife Service has illegally refused to establish critical habitat for either plant.
Golden sedge: Listed as an endangered species in 2002, the golden sedge occurs in only eight populations within a two-mile radius of the Onslow/Pender County line in southeastern North Carolina. The Fish and Wildlife Service has illegally refused to establish critical habitat for the plant.
Complaint for the San Diego ambrosia, Cook's lomatium, large-flowered wolly meadowfoam and golden sedge.
Four New Mexico invertebrates: The Roswell springsnail, Koster’s springsnail, and Noel's amphipod (a freshwater shrimp) are found nowhere else but the Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge. The Pecos assiminea snail is found on the refuge and also in limited areas in Texas. In 2002, Fish and Wildlife Service scientists proposed to designate 1,523 acres of critical habitat for the Pecos assiminea snail and 1,127 acres for each of the other three species. When the decision was finalized by agency bureaucrats in 2005, the Pecos assiminea snail’s habitat was slashed by 74 percent to just 397 acres in Texas. All critical habitat was slashed for the other three species.
In 2006, Yates Petroleum Company filed applications for two gas wells on the refuge, one of which was located just 200 to 300 yards upstream of habitat occupied by the endangered invertebrates. Also in 2006, the Bureau of Land Management approved a plan that would allow up to 91 additional oil and gas wells to be drilled upstream of the refuge, potentially damaging downstream water quality.