Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Interior denies protection for Calif. fish species

The Sacramento splittail fish does not warrant protection under the Endangered Species Act, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said Tuesday. The decision puts the Obama administration on the same side as a former Bush administration official who was accused of improper political interference in dozens of endangered species cases, including a 2003 decision to remove the Sacramento splittail from the threatened species list. Julie MacDonald resigned as deputy assistant Interior secretary in 2007 after the department's inspector general found that she bullied government scientists to alter their findings about endangered species and improperly leaked information about species protection decisions to private groups and industry officials. Biologists in the Sacramento field office had concluded the fish, which is found only in California's Central Valley, should remain on the threatened list, but were overruled by higher ranking officials, including MacDonald. Protections for the small fish could have required flooding the area near MacDonald's property. That could have had an impact on crops or required farmers to pay to install fish screens. In its latest decision, the Fish and Wildlife Service said scientific data failed to show a significant long-term decline of splittail populations. Instead, the agency cited "natural fluctuations" that demonstrate a pattern of successful spawning during wet years, followed by reduced spawning during dry years. An environmental group blasted the decision, which it said was made without up-to-date fish-count surveys.

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