Julie MacDonald, who has a degree in civil engineering and no background in the natural sciences, was named the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks in the Interior Department on May 2004. She altered and reversed conclusions in scientific reports to prevent species from being protected. The Bush Administration to date has listed 58 species (54 as the result of litigation) as endangered as opposed to 512 in the Clinton years and 234 by the first President Bush. MacDonald also hired Todd Willens who worked with the former Republican Representative and anti-environmentalist Richard Pombo. According to a March 2007 Inspector General report, she also passed on internal department documents to the oil industry and land developers in contravention of federal rules and to aid filing of lawsuits against the department. In one instance she pushed to have an endangered species which lived on her farm in California’s Central Valley (the Sacramento splittail fish) delisted. Facing oversight hearings, she resigned April 30, 2007.
The endangered species program has been without a director for a year and, as of July 2007, 30% of its positions are unfilled. On July 20, 2007, H. Dale Hall the current director of the Fish and Wildlife Service announced that 8 decisions made by MacDonald concerning species protection and land use would be reviewed and likely reversed. On November 27, 2007, it was announced that seven of them would be.
On May 21, 2008 in Congressional testimony, a GAO investigator Robin Nazarro stated that the review of MacDonald’s decisions had been too narrow and that 4 other Interior officials had been involved whose roles and decisions should have been examined: Craig Manson, a former Assistant Secretary at Interior, Brian Waidmann, chief of staff to current Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne, Todd Willens, former Deputy Assistant Secretary, and Randal Bowman, special assistant to the Interior Secretary.
In an August 11, 2008 New York Times story, the Department of Interior is drafting a rule which would reduce mandatory reviews and allow government agencies to ignore how building and industrial projects impacted endangered species or how emissions from these projects affect global warming.
In its rush to finalize this rule, the Fish and Wildlife Service assembled a 15 member team to go through 200,000 public comments and gave them 4 days (32 hours) to do so (from October 21-24). This would require each team member to read on average 7 comments a minute (or one every 8.5 seconds). To say this makes a mockery of the government’s rule making procedures would be an understatement.
Overall, however, MacDonald’s zeal to advance her agenda has caused considerable harm to the integrity of the ESA [Endangered Species Act] and to the moral and reputation of the FW [Fish and Wildlife Service], as well as potential harm to individual species. Her heavy-handedness has cast doubt on nearly every ESA decision issued during her tenure; of the 20 decisions we reviewed, her influence potentially jeopardized 13 ESA decisions. Macdonald’s conduct was backed by the seemingly blind support of former Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks, Judge Craig Manson. Judge Manson so thoroughly supported MacDonald that even when a known error in a Federal Register notice, which was caused by MacDonald’s calculations, was brought to Manson’s attention, he directed that the notice be published regardless of the error. MacDonald was also ably abetted in her attempts to interfere with the science by Special Assistant Randal Bowman, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks, who held the position and authority to advance the unwritten policy to exclude as many areas as practicable from Critical Habitat Determinations, as well as Attorney Thomas Graf, Office of the Solicitor, whose remarkable lack of recollection leaves one to speculate whether he was doing MacDonald’s bidding or was a rogue actor simply emulating her policy style.
The former Chief of Conservation and Classfication for the Endangered Species Program had this to say about MacDonald.
[MacDonald] was an odd choice for that position [Deputy Assistant Secretary] because she had no interest in species conservation. She [said] she didn’t like the outdoors; she never went outdoors. She never went to a national park or wildlife refuge and she never intended to . . . [MacDonald believed] there were other more important goals, like making sur people got water and electricity and developers had the opportunity to make profits.
MacDonald refused to be interviewed for the report stating: “Given the breathtaking arrogance with which you have conducted previous so-called investigations of me, I have no interest in any further discussions with your office.” The report contained no recommendation for action against MacDonald.