Marriage made in a Dark Place: Westlands Water District and Julie MacDonald

Fresno Bee
Ex-Bush official: Obama got it right on Calif fish...MATTHEW DALY, Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON - A former Bush administration official on Thursday praised the Obama administration's decision to deny endangered species protection for a central California fish.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ruled earlier this week that the Sacramento splittail fish does not warrant protection under the Endangered Species Act. The decision affirms a 2003 decision by the Bush administration to remove the splittail from the threatened species list.
Julie MacDonald, a former Bush-era Interior official who was closely involved in the 2003 case, said the latest decision confirmed what the science indicated all along.
"Well I think it was the right decision, and it was right the first time," MacDonald said Thursday. "I'm glad they got it right."
MacDonald, who now works as a consultant for the Westlands Water District in central California, has largely avoided the news media since resigning in 2007 amid accusations that she improperly influenced dozens of endangered species cases, including the 2003 decision on the Sacramento splittail. The Bush administration later reversed seven rulings that denied endangered species increased protection, saying MacDonald's actions had tainted the decisions.
In an interview Thursday, MacDonald told The Associated Press she was confident her opinion on the splittail would be upheld.
"It was based on statistical analyses" indicating that the foot-long fish, which is found only in central California, has not shown a long-term decline, she said.
Contrary to allegations by an environmental group and the Interior Department's inspector general, MacDonald said she did not change recommendations about the splittail made by a regional manager at the Fish and Wildlife Service.
Biologists in the Sacramento field office had concluded that splittail should remain on the threatened list, but were overruled by higher ranking officials, including the head of the California-Nevada field office of the Fish and Wildlife Service, she said. MacDonald and her boss, former Assistant Interior Secretary Craig Manson, also supported the decision to remove protections for the fish.
Preserving protections for the splittail could have required flooding the area near MacDonald's 80-acre farm in Dixon, Calif., a fact that environmental groups repeatedly cited in calling for her to recuse herself from the case.
But MacDonald said Thursday that her farm is miles away from the Sacramento River, where the fish is found, and that her property would not have been affected by flooding needed to benefit the splittail.
A prominent environmental group, the Arizona-based Center for Biological Diversity, apologized to MacDonald in 2009 as part of a settlement of a defamation suit filed by MacDonald. In its apology, which is posted on the group's website, executive director Kieran Suckling tells MacDonald that the center "retracts and apologizes for any statements ... that you alone were personally responsible for what CBD asserts was the government's illegal splittail decision." The group's comments "were not intended to impugn your character," Suckling added.
Suckling said in an interview Thursday that he still believes MacDonald should have recused herself in the splittail case. He said he was not surprised that she now works with the Westlands Water District, the nation's largest irrigation district and a key player in an ongoing fight over water restrictions imposed to protect the threatened delta smelt.
"Julie MacDonald is the epitome of the revolving door between Bush administration officials and industry," Suckling said. "All of her terrible Endangered Species Act decisions well-qualify her to walk out of Washington and get a job with a large corporate interest working against the Endangered Species Act."