WASHINGTON - The US Fish and Wildlife Service, accused of letting a political appointee meddle in the science of endangered species, said on Friday it could reverse eight decisions if it finds they were inappropriately influenced by political concerns.
The decisions under review affected species as varied as the Hawaiian picture-wing fly and the white-tailed prairie dog. All involved input from Julie MacDonald, a former deputy assistant secretary who resigned in May after government scientists complained of political interference.
Dale Hall, head of the Fish and Wildlife Service, said hundreds of endangered species decisions from MacDonald's five-year tenure were reviewed after her resignation, and eight were singled out for further evaluation and possible reversal.
"These are important because it's a blemish, I believe, on the scientific integrity of the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Department of the Interior, so we're going to place a pretty high priority on trying to get these done," Hall said in a telephone briefing.
Without being definitive, Hall indicated reversals were likely: "We wouldn't be doing them (the re-evaluations) if we didn't at least suspect that the decision will be different."
The selection of which decisions to review was made by the agency's regional directors, whose original judgements were changed by MacDonald, Hall said.
Hall gave no timetable for the re-evaluations, but said three had already begun in response to court challenges against them. The other five will not begin until the start of the federal fiscal year in October.
INTERFERING WITH SCIENCE
The Union of Concerned Scientists, which has reported extensively on political inteference with science in the United States, gave the announcement a qualified endorsement.
"While we welcome the revisiting of decisions where political interference has been documented, the list of species under consideration is neither comprehensive nor exhaustive," the group's Francesca Grifo said in a statement.
"If the agency truly wants to get to the bottom of this, then asking the regional directors to identify the problems is not enough. Any agency scientist should have been able to provide input."
A report earlier this year by the Interior Department's inspector general gave numerous examples of political appointees in the Bush administration interfering with science at the Fish and Wildlife Service, but focused on MacDonald.
The report said she was heavily involved in editing scientists' reports to favor business interests and had showed internal documents to lobbyists. It noted she was trained as a civil engineer with no formal education in the natural sciences, such as biology.
The decisions under new review involve the following species: the white-tailed prairie dog, Preble's meadow jumping mouse (two decisions), the Hawaiian picture-wing fly, the Arroyo toad, the Southwestern willow flycatcher, the California red-legged frog and the Canada lynx.
Story by Deborah Zabarenko, Environment Correspondent
Story Date: 23/7/2007