DECEMBER 5, 2012
Landscape assessments in limbo after scientists told to ignore livestock impacts
WASHINGTON, DC — The biggest and most ambitious scientific undertaking in the history of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management is languishing after it was revealed the agency directed scientists to exclude livestock grazing as a possible factor in changing landscapes. The agency has also yet to respond to a scientific integrity complaint filed one year ago by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) charging that the exclusion of livestock data constituted political interference.
Launched in 2010 with more than $40 million in stimulus funds, BLM sought to analyze ecological conditions across six “eco-regions” covering the Sagebrush West. There was only one catch: when scientists were assembled BLM managers informed them that there was one “change agent” that would not be studied – the impacts of commercial livestock grazing. BLM managers told stunned scientists the reason for this puzzling exclusion was due to “stakeholders” opposition and fear of litigation, according to documents appended to the PEER complaint. Since that complaint –
• These so-called “Rapid Ecoregional Assessments” have all stalled with no timetable for completion although they were slated to be finished this year;
• To investigate the PEER complaint, BLM tagged Louis Brueggeman, its Fire Management Liaison, to act as “Scientific Integrity Officer.” It is not clear that Mr. Brueggeman has interviewed a single witness proffered by PEER. Nonetheless in an October 12, 2012 email, he said he was “in the process of finalizing the report” responding to the November 2011 PEER complaint; and
• BLM now claims its studies are limited to “four overarching environmental change agents: climate change, wildfires, invasive species, and development (both energy development and urban growth)” but notes “Additional change agents may also be addressed based on ecoregional needs.”
What makes this last bit of revisionist rationale from BLM so questionable is that the agency’s own records show that the primary cause (nearly 80%) for BLM lands not meeting range health standards is damage from livestock, far eclipsing drought, fire, invasion by non-native plants or sprawl – the factors BLM now calls “overarching.” In fact almost 40% of all BLM allotments surveyed since 1998 fail to meet the agency’s own required land health standards due to livestock grazing – more than 33 million acres, an area bigger than the entire State of Alabama. Livestock occupies two-thirds of all BLM lands. Moreover, livestock is directly linked to aggravating drought conditions and spreading invasive species.
“After pledging not to repeat the pattern of political manipulation of science associated with the Bush years, the Obama administration has both embraced that pattern while striving to mask its manipulations though the charade of scientific integrity investigations,” remarked PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, whose organization has likened these investigations to damage control operations rather than objective scientific reviews. “Because they were financed with stimulus funds, these landscape assessments were described as ‘shovel-ready science’ – a term far more apt than originally envisioned.”