The Interior Department under former Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne, the Interior secretary, has decided to take a second look at seven decisions on endangered species, including the size of the critical habitat for the endangered Canada Lynx, which roams Idaho’s backcountry. These are decisions made by officials under his predecessor Gale Norton.
The agency’s inspector general continues to reveal more of the political meddling carried out in the Bush Administration to overrule the professional and scientific judgments of the people who are supposed to protect our natural resources. The agency’s action’s Wednesday focused again on former California engineer Julie McDonald.
The agency was redoing the endangered species decisions it decided it could not defend because McDonald, deputy assistant secretary for fish, wildlife and parks, had either rewritten decisions or the documents they were based on despite no formal scientific training. One in particular was the decision to remove the Sacramento splittail, a small fish, from the threatened species list.
It just so happened that McDonald owned a farm within the habitat of the fish. She made, the inspector general said, more than 500 changes to the supporting documents of the decision. The inspector general said she should have recused herself but he was not recommending she be prosecuted, the Sacramento Bee reported .
Last summer the Kempthorne folks called for the review of the sage grouse listing after Congress raised questions about McDonald’s political interference. She rewrote the decision document in 2004, adding scientific references to studies the agencies' biologists did not include and removed references to research done by other biologists, including Idaho Department of Fish and Game sage grouse expert Jack Connelly of Pocatello.
In my book “Saving All the Parts” I wrote about similar political meddling in the Reagan administration as it tried to avoid listing of the Northern Spotted Owl. But it was no where near as pervasive or as obvious as McDonald’s widespread efforts.
This can’t be easy for Kempthorne. He answers to the same guy Norton did.
Vice President Dick Cheney himself meddled into the decisions about water and salmon made in the Klamath River Basin. President Bush either gave Kempthorne a wide berth to clean up the mess at Interior or the White House is signing off on all of these decisions.
Either way it’s a reversal of the policies that Norton and her now convicted assistant Steve Griles carried out in the name of President Bush.