PEER: FWS Scientists in "Ethics Tug of War"; IG Launches Inquiry 11

Posted by Wonk Room Tue, 18 Mar 2008 16:11:00 GMT

This is crossposted from the newly launched Think Progress Wonk Room, which will be covering policy news from climate change to national security. The issues covered by Hill Heat writer Brad Johnson will enjoy deeper coverage at the Wonk Room, where he is now a full-time staffer.

The Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility today highlighted the ethical conundrum facing scientists currently serving under Fish & Wildlife Service Director H. Dale Hall.

In addition, this month the Interior Inspector General opened a preliminary inquiry into whether Hall violated the code of conduct for repeatedly missing Endangered Species Act deadlines to list the polar bear, despite clear scientific guidance.

PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch asks: “How can we expect scientists to obey a code of conduct that their director ignores?”

The latest delay has also triggered a lawsuit from environmental groups.

Allison Winter reports for E&E News:
The Interior Department’s internal watchdog said today it has begun a preliminary probe of the delayed polar bear decision.

Responding to requests from environmental groups, the Inspector General’s Office official said its preliminary review will determine if there is a need for a full investigation.

The Sierra Club, Alaska Wilderness League and four other organizations requested a review by Inspector General Early Devaney, claiming the delay violates the Fish and Wildlife Service’s scientific code of conduct and rules of the Endangered Species Act by allowing MMS to proceed with Chukchi lease sales.

FWS Chief Admits Administration Budget Cuts Indefensible 2

Posted by Brad Johnson Wed, 05 Mar 2008 16:08:00 GMT

In last week’s budget hearing, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service director Dale Hall was confronted by Rep. Ben Chandler (D-Ky.) in a revealing exchange:
Ben Chandler (D-Ky.) I know that you all have talked some about the alarming loss of common birds in our country. Alarming it is. I almost can’t believe it. The numbers that I’ve seen are absolutely atrocious. And one thing that I’d like to explore with you real quick, the Audubon Society has stated that the cause of the dramatic decline of birds is the outright loss of habitat due to poor land use, the clear-cutting of forests, the draining of wetlands and sprawl. Now, in light of such a stinging indictment as that, how does the administration justify a 70 percent cut in land acquisition?

Hall I don’t know.

The Audubon Society analysis found that many common U.S. birds species have collapsed in recent years, some by at least 80 percent. In addition, the Society has identified 218 U.S. bird species at risk “amid a convergence of environmental challenges, including habitat loss, invasive species and global warming”.

Former Deputy Interior Secretary Julie MacDonald interfered with the Endangered Species Act listings of several of those at-risk: the Greater Sage Grouse, Gunnison Sage Grouse, Southwestern bald eagle, Southwestern willow flycatcher, Sacramento splittail and the recovery plan of the Northern spotted owl

FY 2009 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Geological Survey Budget 1

Posted by Brad Johnson Thu, 28 Feb 2008 15:00:00 GMT

Witnesses
  • Dale Hall, Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
  • Mark D. Myers, Director, U.S. Geological Survey
Ben Chandler (D-Ky.) I know that you all have talked some about the alarming loss of common birds in our country. Alarming it is. I almost can’t believe it. The numbers that I’ve seen are absolutely atrocious. And one thing that I’d like to explore with you real quick, the Audubon Society has stated that the cause of the dramatic decline of birds is the outright loss of habitat due to poor land use, the clear-cutting of forests, the draining of wetlands and sprawl. Now, in light of such a stinging indictment as that, how does the administration justify a 70 percent cut in land acquisition?

Hall I don’t know.

Norm Dicks (D-Wash.) That’s a good answer.

Chandler That’s one of the best answers I’ve heard in a while, because I think that’s accurate. I appreciate that.

E&E News:

Interior will decide 71 listing proposals this year, FWS says

Allison Winter, Greenwire reporter

The Interior Department will decide this year on proposed endangered species listings for 71 species, a nearly tenfold increase in the number of species listed in the Bush administration’s first seven years.

Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dale Hall told a House panel yesterday that the administration would chip away at a backlog of hundreds of species awaiting protection. The service will decide on listings for 71 species this year and 21 more in 2009.

There are more than 280 species on the candidate list, whose listing is “warranted but precluded” because of lack of funding or other higher priorities, federal scientists say. And there are hundreds of additional plants and animals on whose behalf environmentalists have filed petitions.

Among species the agency plans to consider this year: the sand dunes lizard, three kinds of mussels, two snails, insects and dozens of plants.

The effort marks a turnaround for the administration that has hesitated to list any new plants or animals. President Bush’s Interior Department has listed only eight species – compared with 62 by the Clinton administration and 56 under President George H.W. Bush. All eight listings came in response to lawsuits.

If the agency decides to protect any of the 92 species on its list for determinations, the long timeline for such considerations would likely move final decisions to the next administration.

“It took us a little bit, but we hope this will help us to get on track,” Hall said. “We slipped out of the mode.”

Environmentalists have criticized the administration for its hesitance in listing species and said that while this announcement is welcome, there would still be a backlog of hundreds of species.

“I think it certainly indicates a little movement, but this is long overdue movement,” said Bill Snape of the Center for Biological Diversity, which has petitioned and sued for the protection of hundreds of plants and animals under ESA.

“I guess that’s a decent baby step, but the listing program has so many problems associated with it, it is really hard to be overjoyed at this point,” Snape added. In wake of scandals

The service is acting after the Interior inspector general found that the department’s deputy assistant secretary had edited scientific decisions on endangered species. The agency is revising seven rulings that former Deputy Secretary Julie MacDonald was involved in, and Hall said the service has a new policy to keep scientific decisions from reaching political levels.

“The department has allowed me to separate and have the science stop with the director of the Fish and Wildlife Service,” Hall said yesterday. “It should not be creeping up to non-scientists.”

The service director is a political appointee required by law to have a background in biological sciences. MacDonald had a degree in civil engineering and no formal education in natural sciences.

‘Weeks’ until polar bear decision

The administration’s most high-profile listing decision, the polar bear, should be made “within weeks,” Hall said. He said the service has completed its work and the Interior Department is reviewing the decision.

“It needs to be reviewed and explained to Interior, it can take a while to understand,” Hall told reporters.

If listed, the polar bear would be the first mammal protected under ESA because of global warming. Hall said the agency has been “trying to make the decision the best it can be,” but still expects legal challenges.

“We expect a lawsuit no matter what decision we make on almost anything,” Hall said.