Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Prairie dogs get 2nd chance after Bush meddling

Needs ESA protection in AZ, UT, NM and CO
FLAGSTAFF -- The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Tuesday that the Gunnison's prairie dog will receive additional review under the Endangered Species Act. The Service is also opening a public comment period to allow all interested parties an opportunity to provide information regarding the status of the species.

The Service is initiating this status review for the Gunnison's prairie dog in response to a July 2, 2007 court-ordered settlement agreement with conservation groups Forest Guardians, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility and others. Under the agreement, the Service must submit to the Federal Register a 12-month status review finding by February 1, 2008.

A 2006 decision by the Service not to list the mammal for protection under the Endangered Species Act was found by the court to have been illegally influenced Julie MacDonald, a former Bush/Cheney political appointee as deputy assistant secretary at the US Department of the Interior in charge of the Service. MacDonald resigned May 1 in disgrace just prior to a Congressional oversight hearing on anti-science political meddling in the American endangered species program.

Service emails revealed that the negative petition finding issued in 2006 for the Gunnison's prairie dog was ordered by MacDonald and overrode Service biologists' positive finding, which would have pushed the Gunnison's prairie dog closer to federal protection.

One email from the US Fish and Wildlife Service's Chris Nolin, dated January 19, states, "Per Julie please make the pd [prairie dog] finding negative." Two weeks later, the negative finding was published on February 7, 2006.

The Service is now proceeding with the status review, the results of which are supposed to indicate whether or not there is evidence to support listing the Gunnison's prairie dog.

"The Gunnison's prairie dog is the first of MacDonald's victims to get a second chance," said Dr. Nicole Rosmarino of Forest Guardians. "With increased scrutiny, we're hoping this imperiled creature will be provided with the vital safety net the Endangered Species Act provides."

The Gunnison's prairie dog is found in Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah. Rangewide, approximately 70 percent of potential Gunnison's prairie dog habitat occurs on tribal and private lands.

In Arizona and New Mexico, a significant portion of potential habitat occurs on tribal lands.The Gunnison's prairie dog, Cynomys gunnisoni, is a member of the same family as squirrels, chipmunks, and marmots. Gunnison's prairie dogs are found on grasslands and semi-desert and montane shrublands at elevations from 6,000 to 12,000 feet.

The Service is specifically seeking any new information regarding the taxonomic status of the Gunnison's prairie dog; its distribution and population densities; and the effects of sylvatic plague on the species.A broad coalition supports an Endangered Species Act listing for the Gunnison's prairie dog. The initial listing petition, filed by Forest Guardians in February 2004, included 73 co-petitioners, including homebuilders, realtors, landowners, religious groups, and conservation groups.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit settled on July 2 were Forest Guardians, biologists Dr. Constantine Slobodchikoff, Dr. Ana Davidson, and Dr. David Lightfoot, and Jews Of The Earth, Center for Native Ecosystems, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, Wildlands Conservation Alliance, and Bob Luce, the former coordinator of the Interstate Prairie Dog Team.

Additional information about the Gunnison's prairie dog can be found here.

The Service will accept comments and information until October 29, 2007. Comments can be mailed or hand-delivered to: Gunnison's Prairie Dog Comments, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 764 Horizon Drive, Building B, Grand Junction CO 81506-3946, or sent by email to: FW6_Gunnison'

In addition to the court ordered reconsideration of the Gunnison's prairie dog listing, the Service is voluntarily reconsidering decisions made by MacDonald on eight other species. Read the ENS story on these species, Fired Official's Endangered Species Decisions Revisited.

- adpated from ENS

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