WASHINGTON – The director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service may keep a rare jumping mouse in the Rocky Mountains on the endangered species list after all.
The Preble's meadow jumping mouse, the Southwestern willow flycatcher and several other species vying for survival could get a new lease on life from the agency, whose director, H. Dale Hall, is reviewing decisions affecting them, The Associated Press has learned.
They are among the plants and animals affected by up to 10 decisions involving former Interior Department official Julie MacDonald that might be reversed or modified, a government official said Thursday night, speaking on condition of anonymity because a decision had not yet been made.
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MacDonald resigned in May as deputy assistant secretary for fish, wildlife and parks after the department's inspector general found that she had broken federal rules and should be punished for bullying federal scientists and improperly leaking information about endangered species to private groups.
In her three years on the job, MacDonald also was heavily involved in delisting the Sacramento splittail, a fish found only in California's Central Valley, while owning an 80-acre farm where the fish live.
"We're reviewing a number of decisions that Julie MacDonald was involved with and we're determining how best to proceed," said Chris Tollefson, a spokesman for the Fish and Wildlife Service, who wouldn't confirm anything more. "There are a lot of things under consideration."
Jan Hasselman, a lawyer for the Earthjustice law firm, said other species likely to be affected by that review are Hawaiian picture-wing flies, Western white-tailed prairie dogs, marbled murrelet seabirds along the Pacific Coast, Southwestern arroyo toads, California red-legged frogs, bull trout in the Northwest and Canada lynx along the U.S. border.
"This list is just the tip of the iceberg," said Hasselman, whose law firm has represented environmental groups suing the department over some of those species. "This problem runs far deeper than just the species they claim they'll review."
Also Thursday, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., asked Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne to clarify how his department will ensure its accountability and ethics in the wake of MacDonald's departure and the tenure of J. Steven Griles, an ex-deputy secretary handed a 10-month prison sentence for lying to senators in the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal.
Wyden said he was concerned that Mark Limbaugh, the Interior official appointed to head the newly formed Conduct Accountability Board, had just resigned to take a job representing local and state water agencies with interests before the department.