updated 5/22/2007 3:54:27 PM ET 2007-05-22T19:54:27

Two leading House Democrats asked the Interior Department on Monday to investigate whether a former agency official pushed to remove a fish from the threatened species list even though she had a potential financial stake in the outcome.

Julie MacDonald, who resigned last month after a rebuke from the department's inspector general over other endangered species issues, was heavily involved in delisting the Sacramento splittail while owning an 80-acre farm in the creature's California habitat, according to a report Sunday in the Contra Costa Times.

The fish was listed as threatened from 1999 to 2003 until it was taken off the list after intervention by MacDonald, who was deputy assistant secretary for fish, wildlife and parks when she resigned. Biologists in the Sacramento field office had concluded the fish should remain on the list.

Mandates to protect the splittail could have required flooding in the Yolo Bypass, the floodplain where MacDonald owns her farm. That could have had an impact on crops or required farmers to pay to install fish screens, the Contra Costa Times said.

"It is our understanding that this is the first and only time that a fish species has been removed from the list of threatened species for reasons other than extinction," Democratic Reps. George Miller of California and Nick Rahall of West Virginia wrote to Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne on Monday.

"It is unacceptable that such an unprecedented policy decision may have been made because a deputy assistant secretary had a direct and substantial personal financial interest," they wrote.

Miller and Rahall asked Kempthorne to direct the Fish and Wildlife Service to evaluate whether its decision to delist the Sacramento splittail was made properly.

An Interior spokesman did not immediately respond to voicemail messages left after-hours Monday and a message for MacDonald left at her home in Dixon, Calif., was not immediately returned.

In a written statement for the Times story Sunday, the Interior Department said senior department officials were apparently unaware of issues with MacDonald and the splittail

"If it turns out that former Deputy Assistant Secretary MacDonald acted inappropriately regarding the Sacramento splittail, we will conduct an appropriate review of the regulatory process that led to the final decision," according to the statement.

The inspector general's March report said MacDonald released information that was not supposed to be made public to organizations such as the California Farm Bureau Federation, and described her exerting seemingly political pressure in a series of endangered species decisions. The report didn't address the splittail issue.

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