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Originally published December 1, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified December 1, 2007 at 5:32 PM

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Spotted owl, marbled murrelet decisions to be examined

Earl Devaney, the Interior Department's inspector general, said he will look into whether department officials used improper political influence...

PORTLAND — Earl Devaney, the Interior Department's inspector general, said he will look into whether department officials used improper political influence to lessen protections for the northern spotted owl, marbled murrelet, bull trout and other endangered species.

Devaney announced the decision in a letter sent Friday to Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., who requested the investigation, The Oregonian newspaper reported.

The administration reduced federal safeguards for some of those species after legal agreements with the timber industry, which sees the protections as obstacles to logging. For example, Bush officials in 2004 overruled federal scientists, determining that marbled murrelets in the Northwest did not need protection under the Endangered Species Act.

Devaney agreed to start his investigation immediately after Wyden made the request in a letter.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reversed seven rulings that denied endangered species increased protection, after an investigation found the actions were tainted by political pressure from Julie MacDonald, a former deputy assistant secretary of fish, wildlife and parks.

MacDonald resigned in May after the Interior Department's inspector general rebuked her for pressuring wildfire agency scientists to alter their findings about endangered species and leaking information about species decisions to industry officials.

In his letter to Devaney, Wyden said documents and other evidence suggest MacDonald improperly influenced decisions on many species and interfered with scientific findings in the 2004 conclusion affecting marbled murrelets.

Earlier this fall, Earthjustice, a public-interest law firm representing several conservation groups, wrote Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorn, asking he withdraw the five-year status review of the marbled murrelet. A lawyer for group wrote that e-mails and notes of meetings obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show that MacDonald "improperly interfered with the science underlying the marbled murrelet status review."

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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