AGUA and two other organizations filed suit today to protect endangered species found only in the Edwards Aquifer and its recharge zone. AGUA is alleging the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) designated far too little critical habitat to conserve the species.
In designating critical habitat for nine endangered species, FWS slashed scientists' recommendations for 9,516 acres to 1,060 in its final ruling. For three other species, FWS designated a mere 50 acres of critical habitat, and only 13 acres of that are privately owned.
The suit asks the court to declare that defendants violated the ESA by issuing inadequate and unlawful critical habitat designations for the Texas Species and compel designation of sufficient habitat to conserve the species. AGUA is joined in the lawsuit by New Braunfels-based Citizens' Alliance for Smart Expansion and Tuscon-based Center for Biological Diversity.
Political interference with scientists' recommendations
Three of the species occur in only four springs where they are threatened by groundwater pumping. After FWS scientists drafted a proposed rule that included subterranean waters in the aquifer, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Interior Julie MacDonald ordered that only the small areas around the springs be designated despite the fact that threats are to the aquifer and not the springs.
In 2007, USA Today reported allegations that "a political appointee altered scientific reports on endangered species in ways that limited protected habitats, and released internal reports to real estate industry lawyers in violation of federal regulations.”
A New York Times story from the same period said:
"…Julie A. MacDonald, resigned on May 1… after an internal review found that she had violated federal rules by giving government documents to lobbyists for industry. The agency’s inspector general also found several instances in which Ms. MacDonald browbeat department biologists and habitat specialists and overruled their recommendations to protect a variety of rare and threatened species…