For Immediate Release, January 15, 2008

Contact: Noah Greenwald, Center for Biological Diversity, (503) 484-7495

Former Recovery Leader Blasts U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Leadership for Undermining Black-footed Ferret Recovery Program

PORTLAND, Ore.— In a January 7, 2008, memo, Mike Lockhart, who retired from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in frustration after 32 years — including the past eight years as the leader of the black-footed ferret recovery program — strongly criticized the agency’s leadership for making back-room deals with the state of South Dakota and U.S. Forest Service that undermined the black-footed ferret recovery program by allowing poisoning of prairie dogs. Black-footed ferrets depend on prairie dog colonies for survival; prairie dogs are their primary prey, and prairie dog burrows are used as shelter and dens.

“The black-footed ferret is one of the most endangered mammals in North America,” said Noah Greenwald, conservation biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity. “It is absolutely ludicrous to exclude government scientists who know the species best from decisions affecting the ferret’s survival.”

Lockhart reserved his strongest condemnation for Mountain-Prairie Regional Director Mitch King, calling King “the most destructive and irresponsible regional director” he ever experienced and concluding that “the arrogance and recklessness with which Mitch made unilateral decisions affecting the black-footed ferret program have caused major, perhaps irreversible impacts to some BFF recovery sites and may impact our ability to promote recovery projects on other federal public lands.”

The Bush administration appointed Mitch King regional director in December 2005. In this position, he supported development of a draft plan by the U.S. Forest Service, released in June of last year, which under a number of alternatives would drastically expand the area in which prairie dogs are poisoned in the Buffalo Gap National Grasslands and other areas, including the Conata Basin, where the largest and most successful ferret population has been established. Such poisoning is at the behest of the governor of South Dakota, who is alleged to have the ear of the White House, and could undermine a recovery program that has cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and is beginning to show some success.

“This is yet one more example of the Bush administration’s disregard for science, government scientists, and endangered species,” said Greenwald. “Political interference in critical decisions involving some of the nation’s most endangered species has become all too commonplace under the Bush administration.”

Both the inspector general of the Department of the Interior and the Government Accountability Office of Congress are currently investigating political interference in decisions concerning endangered species. Although these investigations particularly focus on one political appointee, Former Deputy Assistant Secretary Julie MacDonald, it is becoming increasingly clear that the problems have become widespread in the Department of the Interior and Fish and Wildlife Service under the Bush administration.

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