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Controversy erupts over Endangered Species Act

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But it is the political pressure on government scientists that is the current focus.

Following a critical report by the inspector general of the Interior Department in March, Julie MacDonald – the official in charge of fish and wildlife, including those listed under the ESA – resigned.

Fish and Wildlife Service employees complained that Ms. MacDonald had "bullied, insulted, and harassed the professional staff … to change documents and alter biological reporting," according to the report.

"We confirmed that MacDonald has been heavily involved with editing, commenting on, and reshaping the endangered species program's scientific reports from the field," the inspector general wrote, also noting that "she has no formal educational background in natural sciences, such as biology."

The Interior Department inspector general also found that MacDonald had "disclosed nonpublic information to private sector sources" – special interests that had a financial stake in species listing and protection – including the California Farm Bureau Federation and the Pacific Legal Foundation, a public interest law firm that specializes in property rights advocacy and litigation.

Government officials moved quickly to fix the political damage.

Last week, the director of the US Fish and Wildlife Service (the Interior Department agency in charge of endangered species programs) announced that eight decisions MacDonald had made under the ESA would be examined for scientific and legal discrepancies.

In a phone conference with reporters, Fish and Wildlife Service director H. Dale Hall called the episode "a blemish … on the scientific integrity" of the agency. "When I became director, I made scientific integrity my highest priority, and these reviews underscore our commitment to species conservation," Mr. Hall said.

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