Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Our best wishes for the holidays & 2013

 Happy holidays, merry Christmas & best for 2013 to our friends & family. 
Daniel and Ruby Patterson, Tucson AZ

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Reward grows for capture of petroglyph vandals. Sites at risk

Raymond Andrews, Bishop Paiute Tribe Historic Preservation Officer, at vandalism site last month.

BISHOP, Calif. -- The reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of vandals who carted off or defaced several ancient petroglyphs on federal desert public lands near Bishop, California got a hefty increase today, when Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) added $1,000 to the pot. The reward originally posted by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) for information leading to the capture and conviction of the petroglyph vandals has now been supplemented by a local tribe, hikers and other conservation groups.

The petroglyphs, likely carved by ancient hunters into the red tufa of the volcanic tablelands near Bishop, are estimated to be between four and ten thousand years old.  The vandalism was discovered by visitors and reported to BLM’s Bishop Field Office on October 31.  The petroglyphs, just feet from dirt roads, are extremely vulnerable.  BLM, with its tightening budgets, has not been able to keep patrols regularly onsite and has instead relied on the public stewardship to protect the sites.  

At least four ancient petroglyphs were cut from cliffs at the Volcanic Tableland.  A fifth was defaced with deep saw cuts and a sixth was removed and broken but left on site. Dozens of other irreplaceable artifacts were also damaged in what authorities are calling “the worst act of vandalism ever seen” on federal lands in the area.  Perpetrators removed or damaged rock art at five locations within the site.

Public outrage continues to grow as word spreads of the desecration at the ancient Bishop site as well as others in the west.  BLM’s original $1,000 reward has been augmented with $1,000 from a local Tribe, the Paiute-Shoshone, plus $1,000 from the Center for Sierra Nevada Conservation.  The Access Fund, representing California climbers, has raised more than $1,200 in donations online. Locally, the Eastern Sierra Interpretive Association is also collecting money for the reward fund.

Executive Director Jeff Ruch, announcing PEER’s offer, said, “It is critical that the vandals be caught, convicted and put behind bars. That’s a message anyone else contemplating such sacrilege might understand.” PEER is also soliciting donations to supplement its reward fund. “We want to make sure that solving this crime pays more than the crime itself.”

Native rock art is vulnerable to theft and vandalism not only on BLM lands but also on national park lands, as well.  PEER is leading a campaign to induce the National Park Service and the City of Albuquerque, New Mexico to better protect the estimated 22,000 petroglyphs spread over miles of the Petroglyph National Monument.  An online petition has drawn over a thousand supporters pressing for consistent management standards and patrols protecting the invaluable rock art for which the Monument was created.   

“Unlike natural resources, our cultural artifacts can never be replaced if they are destroyed,” Ruch added.  “These measures demonstrate that the public will do what it takes to support our land management agencies in safeguarding our heritage.” 

Monday, December 10, 2012

Big coalition wants Obama to pick Grijalva as Interior Sec.

Rep. Raúl Grijalva, American conservationist

TUCSON -- In a letter sent today, a broad coalition of 238 conservation, Hispanic, employee, recreation, animal welfare, religious, labor, youth, business and women’s groups urged President Barack Obama to nominate Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) as the next interior secretary when that position opens. Grijalva is currently ranking member of the House Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands, and a leading Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee.

The selection of the next interior secretary is “an important moment to place a renewed emphasis and urgency on some of the most critical issues of our age, including climate change, the protection of endangered species and preservation of water and wild lands,” reads the letter. "We strongly believe Congressman Grijalva exemplifies the modern and forward-thinking vision of the Department of the Interior.”

Rudi Navarra
, director of Latinos Go Green, said: “Congressman Grijalva would be an excellent secretary of the interior. He understands conservation issues, and would represent all Americans of diverse backgrounds in protecting America’s great wildlife and wild places for generations to come.”

Daniel Patterson, ecologist and southwest director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, said: “Representative Grijalva is an experienced westerner who understands the big challenges interior faces. People see Grijalva as the best pick to protect America's land, water and wildlife. He has the guts and support to strengthen interior to better serve employees and natural resources.”

Kierán Suckling
, director of the Center for Biological Diversity, said: “Congressman Grijalva’s a visionary leader with the courage and practical skills to solve the long list of pressing environmental issues we face. There’s no better person for interior secretary than Mr. Grijalva.”

Erich Pica, president of Friends of the Earth, said: “Representative Grijalva has long been an environmental leader on the Natural Resources Committee, and his expertise is just what is needed at the Department of the Interior. For too long the oil, mining and coal interests have been at the helm of the Department of the Interior, but Rep. Grijalva would remake the agency to put the American people before polluters."

Carole King, musician and spokesperson for the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, said: “President Obama is a very smart man who was elected by a broad coalition to accomplish great things. If he nominates Congressman Raúl Grijalva as the next secretary of the interior, he will be choosing a highly qualified, experienced leader who will help him protect America's public lands, address climate change, and ensure a sustainable economy for future generations.”

Suzan Shown Harjo (Cheyenne & Hodulgee Muscogee), president of The Morning Star Institute, said: “Raúl Grijalva has worked with Native American nations and people for many years. He understands what we face as ancient cultural continuums, as governments and as families. He is brilliant, dedicated and effective at protecting our vital natural resources and national heritage. He is perfect for this job.”

Brock Evans of the Federation of Western Outdoor Clubs, and president of the Endangered Species Coalition, said: "The secretary of the interior is the most important environmental position in the whole U.S. government. Whoever holds this position has tremendous power over wildlife, national parks and wildlife refuges, and many other legal authorities that ensure American environmental health. In the spirit of Teddy Roosevelt, this coalition will continue to insist to the White House that only someone with a strong and proven environmental record should be secretary of the interior."

Andrew Kimbrell
, executive director of Center for Food Safety, said: “As ranking member of the Natural Resources Committee and co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Congressman Grijalva has been a strong force for environmental stewardship, protection of public lands and resources, and economic justice. Grijalva’s leadership and thorough understanding of complex issues throughout his tenure in the U.S. House of Representatives makes him the ideal candidate for secretary of the interior.”

The letter with 238 signatory groups from around the country includes Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, Latinos Go Green, Latina Lista, Ciudadanos Del Karso, Vegabajenos Impulsando Ambiental Sustentable, Center for Biological Diversity, Desert Tortoise Council, Center for Food Safety, Save the Scenic Santa Ritas, Women Food and Agriculture Network, Friends of the Earth, Rainforest Action Network, American Forests, Labor Network for Sustainability, Federation of Western Outdoor Clubs, Christians Caring for Creation, Public Citizen, Food and Water Watch, New Mexico Wilderness Alliance, Committee on Idaho's High Desert, Southwest Montana Wildlands Association, Washington Wild, Wild Utah Project, Wildlife Alliance of Maine, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, South Florida Wildlands Association, Tennessee Environmental Council, the Wisconsin Resource Protection Council, the Arizona Wilderness Coalition, Desert Protective Council, Friends of Animals, Great Old Broads for Wilderness, Green Delaware, Kentucky Heartwood, Kids vs. Global Warming, United Church of Christ Network for Environmental & Economic Responsibility, Rocky Mountain Wild, Sea Turtle Conservancy, Tucson Audubon, WildEarth Guardians, Western Watersheds Project, Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, West North Carolina Alliance, Wild Idaho Rising and WildWest Institute. 
  
adapted from CBD

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Feds duck complaint about suppressing harm to public lands

Scientific integrity problems continue at US Interior, BLM

WASHINGTON -- 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.”

Link to news release and supporting documents

Friday, November 16, 2012

Daniel's photo of the day, Nov 16: Hunting Arizona

My friend Sky Jacobs & I enjoyed a successful hunt for this 8 point Coues Whitetail Deer buck Nov 15 in the Canelo Hills, Coronado National Forest, SE Arizona. Tasty wild meat for the holidays. I'm thankful to the deer. Photo by Sky Jacobs. Follow @DanPattersonUSA

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Daniel's 2012 election views from Tucson, Arizona

Rep. Daniel Patterson with First Lady Michelle Obama, 2011

TUCSON -- Another big election day has come and passed, thank God. A few quick takes:

Barack Obama stays President, which I support. I encourage him to push hard in his second term, which will not be easy due to US House extremism likely to continue.  

Mitt Romney just proved to be a weak, out-of-touch candidate for the GOP. He lost big in my part of Arizona and much of America as the adrift GOP focused too much on trying to please angry, old, conservative white men.

Voters had problems. I worked election day as a Democratic Party representative poll observer in my precinct 46, at the Santa Rosa Library south of downtown. Unfortunately, there were many on-going problems with voter ID and accuracy of voter rolls. A lot of people were forced to wait in line to cast provisional ballots, at least 148 in just precinct 46 vs. 286 people who got to vote a regular ballot. These voting problems may be a growing controversy in Pima County this week.

Tucson voters helped the struggling legislature a bit by booting extremist Republicans Frank Antenori and Ted Vogt. I'm especially gratified to see dishonest freshman tea-bagger Vogt thrown out by voters. Vogt earned and deserved the loss. Congrats to LD10 Rep. Bruce Wheeler and Rep.-elect Stefanie Mach. In LD9 I'm disappointed voters did not elect fine State Rep. candidate Mohur Sarah Sidhwa and I salute her run.

I congratulate my friend and former colleague Kyrsten Sinema in her apparent win for US House in Arizona's new CD9 in and around Phoenix. She is a powerful leader and should make a great US Rep. Kyrsten will join my Rep. Raul Grijalva as a top progressive in the US House, now two from Arizona, showing the diversity of this changing state.

Arizonans wisely rejected Prop 120 for the state to try seizing the Grand Canyon and public lands. Will the GOP drop their anti-conservation platform as they consider their future? Doubtful, but they should.

In Pima County races, I'm bummed Elaine Richardson didn't win Treasurer, and Nancy Young-Wright lost for Supervisor. These two leading women were both fine candidates and would've been good in these positions.

Too bad Rich Carmona couldn't beat Jeff Flake. Rich gave it a good shot. I fear Arizona will continue to be poorly represented in the important US Senate, which costs us as a state. I hope Flake will moderate from his hard-right positions, but it seems unlikely. John McCain's seat is up for vote in 2014. He should retire.

It was encouraging and healing for me to see and talk with many old and new friends at the polls, Pima County Democratic HQ, and election events at Grijalva HQ and UA Marriott. Thanks for all the kind support people shared. I take responsibility for my mistakes. I've learned some important, tough lessons. At the same time I'm proud of my record and many accomplishments helping people. I'm optimistic about the future. I'm staying involved and I'll see you around. Thanks.

Read me on twitter for more political and other views @DanPattersonUSA including some views from New Mexico politics.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Vote 2012: Daniel's Arizona candidate recommendations

TUCSON (Oct 11) -- Early voting starts today in Arizona. Election day is Tuesday, November 6. As an 18-year progressive and independent Arizona political activist, former State Lawmaker, etc., here are my voting recommendations for selected general election races. Also see Daniel's 2012 Arizona Propositions voting recommendations and follow @DanPattersonUSA
US President: Barack Obama
US Senate: Rich Carmona
Arizona Corporation Commission: Sandra Kennedy, Paul Newman and Marcia Busching
US House, CD3: Raul Grijalva; CD2: Ron Barber; CD9: Kyrsten Sinema
Pima County Treasurer: Elaine Richardson 
Pima County Supervisor: Richard Elias, Ray Carroll and Nancy Young-Wright
Pima County Sheriff: Clarance Dupnik
AZ House, LD2: Rosanna Gabaldon; LD9: Mohur Sarah Sidhwa; LD10: Stefanie Mach and Bruce Wheeler; LD28: Eric Meyer
AZ Senate, LD10: David Bradley
TUSD Board: Betts Putnam-Hidalgo, Kristel Foster and Cam Juarez
Maricopa County Sheriff: Paul Penzone
I chose not to recommend in all races. More info may be added here as the election approaches.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Daniel's 2012 Arizona Propositions voting recommendations

TUCSON (Sept 27) -- Arizonans will start voting October 11 on nine ballot propositions. Based on my knowledge and experience, here are my recommendations for voting in the public interest. More info may be added here as the election approaches. You may also want to check the AZ SoS voter guide. Also see my candidate picks.
Prop. 114 NEUTRAL but why amend constitution here? Current law is enough. 
Prop. 115 NO to keep politics out of the judiciary.
Prop. 116 YES to help business and jobs.
Prop. 117 NO to keep property taxes fair.
Prop. 118 YES for more reliable school funding from state lands.
Prop. 119 YES to conserve state lands around military bases.
Prop. 120 NO to protect public lands & parks from unconstitutional land-grabs by legislature.
Prop. 121 YES for open primary elections that may support more moderate candidates.
Prop. 204 NEUTRAL Arizona needs more education and infrastructure funding, but our regressive sales tax is already too high and not a stable funding source.
Prop. 409 NO (Tucson only) Untrustworthy city management calls for rejection of this tax increase at this time. Where is the RTA sales tax money to help fix Tucson roads?

Mom wolf captured on Gila, removed from wild by feds

Feds doom critical mother wolf.

SILVER CITY, N.M. -- Conservationists condemned the action by government trappers who Wednesday captured and permanently removed a female wolf from Gila National Forest public lands in New Mexico for allegedly preying on a few livestock. The Fox Mountain alpha female, who had evaded trappers for two months, will now be put into captivity for life.

"There is no more powerful symbol of what’s wrong with the Mexican gray wolf recovery effort than this decision to remove a mother wolf with young pups for doing what comes naturally to her—preying on animals," stated Wendy Keefover, Director of Carnivore Protection at WildEarth Guardians. "We need new leadership, new vision and a new paradigm. This is a crime against nature."

On August 8, 2012, the US Interior Department's Fish and Wildlife Service issued a kill order for the alpha female (AF1188) for allegedly killing livestock. She has a mate (AF1158) and five pups, including four young of the year and one yearling pup.

Hundreds, if not thousands of people called the Service, the White House, and the New Mexico Congressional delegation protesting the decision. As a result of the public outcry, the Service rescinded the kill order two days later, but then ordered that she be captured live and moved to the Southwest Wolf Conservation Center.

"US Interior and USDA serve the wolf-haters, dooming this critical mother loba and ignoring science and citizens," said Daniel Patterson, Ecologist and Southwest Director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). "Many lobos have been eliminated from our public lands, but the feds have refused to release any new Mexican wolves to the wild for nearly four years. Federal mismanagement and political pandering continue to jeopardize wolf recovery in the southwest."

In response, conservationists called upon government officials to leave the mother wolf in the wild with her pups and her mate. Removing her will create trauma for all of the individuals involved. It also eliminated a breeding female from the wild wolf population that struggling to survive.
  • AF1188 is only one of six breeding females in a population of less than 60 Mexican wolves. It is essential to preserve breeding females in the wild to support recovery of the species.
  •  AF1188 has 5 pups that she and her mate are provisioning.
  •  No wolves should be removed for livestock conflicts. Improved herd management practices can eliminate predation on livestock.
  •  The Service needs to release more captive Mexican wolves to address inbreeding problems in the wild population. 
adapted from WEG news release
 

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Farewell message that land agency BLM has lost its way

Feds go full-drill, shorting conservation duties.

VERNAL, Utah — The U.S. Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management has lost sight of its mission in a quest to maximize fossil energy and other resource exploitation on public wild lands, according to the retirement message sent by a career natural resource specialist and posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The sobering message depicts cascading natural system failures due to unchecked oil and gas drilling and related cumulative damage to public lands, air and waters.

Stan Olmstead started his career in natural resource management inside public agencies 44 years ago, with stints in the National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service and Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. For the past 20 years he has been a Natural Resource Specialist and an Environmental Scientist in BLM’s Vernal Field Office in eastern Utah, near the Colorado border. On September 28th, his final day of federal service, he sent a memo entitled “Last Formal Comment” to all BLM employees throughout Utah.

In this memo, he decried a singular “focus on commodities and economics as opposed to environmental health.” He elaborated by writing “At the Vernal Office little concern has been shown to care for sensitive species … We promote energy development without stop and continue to measure natural resources by dollar value…” Olmstead offered these pointed examples:
  • BLM fails to protect sensitive wildlife and as a result “lost the mountain plover; the only known population in Utah… Little effort to prevent this loss was implemented.” He called this dereliction “a serious mission departure.”
  • “Plugging and abandonment of well sites have not been a priority. Numerous oil & gas wells have not produced for more than 15 years and yet these sites remain un-reclaimed.”
  • Cumulative impacts from oil and gas drilling. For example, “we disturb large percentages of our [grazing] allotments located in oil & gas fields and AUMs [Animal Unit Months] remain the same. If you lose 30% of the forage in a specific allotment it is logical to reduce the AUMs by 30%.”
“Stan is telling us that BLM has lost its way. BLM is supposed to be a ‘multiple-use agency’ but managers have misplaced the ‘multiple’ as they go full-drill and shortchange conservation,” stated Southwest PEER Director Daniel Patterson, an Ecologist in Tucson also formerly with BLM, noting that the BLM Director position is currently vacant. “BLM needs a visionary new leader who will keep public lands development at sustainable levels and understands you can’t have every use on every acre.”

Olmstead also cited poor land reclamation, unmonitored water depletion for endangered fish of the Colorado River watershed, and mounting air pollution, all due to divergence from BLM’s mission “to sustain the health, diversity and productivity of public lands for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations.” He concluded with this call to colleagues:

“We need to alter our bureaucratic method of operation …Be honest about what is happening.”

All links

High Country News coverage

and more coverage from Greenwire:

INTERIOR: Veteran BLM official blasts agency for valuing drilling over conservation

Emily Yehle, E&E reporter

Published: Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Interior Department's Bureau of Land Management has lost sight of its mission in the political rush to use public lands for energy development, according to an experienced agency official.

Stan Olmstead retired last month after 20 years at BLM, most recently as a natural resource specialist and environmental scientist in the Vernal Field Office in eastern Utah. In his last few minutes on the clock, he decided to send a three-page memo to his colleagues outlining what he saw as the agency's focus on economics at the expense of natural resources.

He described an office that promotes energy development and measures natural resources "by dollar value," leading to the neglect of sensitive species and the land's health. As examples, he pointed to the loss of the mountain plover in Utah and the delay in reclaiming unused oil and gas wells.

"Without serious fulfillment of the mission we continue to harm public land as it has been harmed so frequently in our historic past," Olmstead wrote. "Be honest about what is happening. It is easier to break something than to fix it, so let us stop breaking the land."

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility released Olmstead's memo today, calling for a "visionary new leader" at BLM who will steer the agency away from what it sees as a focus on oil drilling. Bob Abbey retired in May as BLM director; since then, Deputy Director Mike Pool has served as acting director.

A BLM spokesman did not immediately return a request for comment.

Abbey had left BLM in 2005, citing the agency's singular focus on oil and gas drilling. He came back in 2009 as director and engineered a sweeping overhaul of oil and gas leasing on federal lands, promoting an expansion of renewable energy and a renewed focus on conservation.

But Olmstead depicts an agency that is still grappling with balancing its mission to protect public lands while reaching administrative goals to expand energy production. In an interview today, he pointed to a recent New York Times article that describes the close relationship between drillers and BLM officials in Utah.

Olmstead said his memo was "one last attempt to try to draw attention to the other values we have." His pleas -- and those of other natural resource employees -- while within the agency were mostly ignored, he said; protection of the health and diversity of public lands was simply not a priority."I think my main motive is to communicate," he said, adding that he has a meeting later this month with BLM Utah Director Juan Palma. "I have been somewhat quiet during my employment, and now that I'm in retirement I plan to speak out."

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Rising doubts on Interior Inspector General's independence

WASHINGTON — A sizeable and growing segment of the investigators and supervisors within the Interior's Department's Office of Inspector General (IG) believes the office is pulling punches to avoid embarrassing the administration, according to new staff survey results posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). These concerns echo criticisms by Congress and PEER that under acting Inspector General Mary Kendall the Interior IG has compromised its "independence and honesty" to please political superiors, in the words of one agent.

The 2012 survey was completed by 82% of all IG staff with final results reported in mid-September. A key finding was employee response to the question of whether the IG "conducts its work in a manner that is independent (free from improper influence) from the Department [of Interior]." Nearly one in seven respondents said no and more than a quarter would not say either way. Less than 60% said yes, a lower percentage than in surveys from the previous two years. Staff comments included the following:
  • "I think there is widespread distrust and low morale in the organization right now. There are at least perceptions the acting IG and COS [Chief of Staff] did not do the right thing, ie [sic], improperly quashed investigations, and have not been forthright with Congress";
  • "Wake up and quit trying to 'get approval' from DOI [Interior]...we have a job to do"; and
  • "Be careful with how much reports get softened to avoid 'slamming' the Department in the interest of maintaining a good relationship."
These issues are brought into stark relief by a House Natural Resource Committee investigation into whether the IG skewed its own report into claims that the Obama White House and top Interior officials falsely reported that its 6-month Gulf of Mexico drilling moratorium following the 2010 BP spill had been endorsed by outside experts. Internal IG emails complained its probe was improperly blunted. In her September 19th memo transmitting survey results to staff, Ms. Kendall complained of "scrutiny from the House Resources Committee" among the factors which may have affected results.

"As an acting IG, Mary Kendall's tenure depends upon pleasing the very people she is supposed to investigate. As a result, this watchdog is not just on a very tight leash, it is on a choke chain," stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. "To be effective and remain independent, an IG must be willing on a daily basis to get canned or resign if the mission is compromised."

Pleasing her superiors entails not only softening reports or quashing probes it can also include targeting employees who inconvenience senior Interior managers. Last week, for example, it was revealed that the IG conducted a controversial investigation into Arctic scientists as part of an effort to stem and discredit the source of embarrassing leaks. The more than two-year effort identified no scientific misconduct but did interrupt one scientist's extensive research and disrupt his career.

"Kendall doesn't seem to get it that her job is to seek and tell the truth, not please politicians and lobbyists," said PEER Southwest Director Daniel Patterson, an Ecologist based in Tucson, Arizona who formerly worked with Interior agency BLM. "The serious troubles in her office undermine Interior employees' ability to honestly do their jobs based on science and truth, not politics and money."

Although Kendall seeks to be nominated as the permanent IG, even after confirmation every IG serves at the pleasure of the President – a status often cited for the tendency of many IGs to concentrate on low-level misconduct and eschew probing improper or imprudent political interference. This has long been a pattern at Interior IG, one perfected by Kendall's mentor, Earl Devaney, who was Interior IG until 2009.

"Under the current system, IGs revel in petty scandals and flee profound corruption," Ruch added. "If the Inspector Generals were truly independent, groups like PEER would not be so infernally busy."

Related links

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Feds acquit selves on wolf science; independent look needed

Obama made a poor choice of Salazar (left) for Interior.

TUCSON -- The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) denies engaging in scientific misconduct while determining what is needed to recover the highly endangered Mexican wolf. This denial came in response to a formal complaint from Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), which challenged the cogency and accuracy of findings by an agency official rejecting its charges and renewed calls for independent reviews of complaints involving political manipulation of science.

Today fewer than 60 Mexican wolves remain in the wild. Conceding failure after years of recovery efforts, FWS began a new recovery process in 2010. In a complaint filed this June under new Department of Interior scientific integrity rules, PEER detailed how the scientists assembled for this new process were pressured to water down and alter findings.

Instead of bringing in outside reviewers as it has for other complaints, Interior asked FWS to review itself. The investigation was tasked to an FWS career official in Washington DC, Richard Coleman. In his five-page “reply letter” dated September 25th, Coleman dismissed all the complaint specifications. PEER counters that his findings, supported by no citation or scientific research, suffer from three central defects:

  • Coleman found “it is not reckless for the [FWS Southwest] Regional Director to request [scientific changes], since the Regional Director is ultimately responsible for the recovery of the Mexican wolf.” Simply because the Regional Director has final authority does not legitimize ignoring the best available science. The whole point of the scientific integrity rules is to stop officials with final authority from pressuring scientists to alter or suppress results, as was done here;
  • Coleman repeatedly states that because no final FWS decision has been made on the recovery plan, a violation of the integrity policy is not possible (e.g., “Speculation about the conclusion of this upcoming…finding is not a valid basis for scientific misconduct”). This is another fundamental misreading of the Interior integrity policy which explicitly forbids political interference at any stage of the decision-making process; and
  • His finding incorrectly concludes that “your allegation also assumed that the best available scientific information would indicate that recovery of the Mexican wolf (Southwest wolf) should include areas in Colorado and Utah.” The need for recovery areas in Colorado and Utah was indeed the conclusion reached by the specially convened Science and Planning Subgroup of the Mexican Wolf Recovery Team based on best available scientific information – which then resulted in the FWS decision to cancel the recovery team meeting, facts Coleman managed to overlook.

“This official self-vindication by the Fish & Wildlife Service is an embarrassment. This response employs standards and methods that make Interior’s vaunted scientific integrity policies an utter joke,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that the Bureau of Reclamation Scientific Integrity Officer was abruptly removed after elevating scientific integrity concerns. “This exercise should stand as Exhibit A for subjecting complaints of political manipulation of science to outside scrutiny rather than having officials investigate their own chains of command.”

Despite protesting that any conclusion about the process is premature, the FWS is slated to announce its decision regarding Mexican wolves later this week (“by September 30, 2012” according to Coleman). If the upcoming decision does not reflect the best available science, FWS will likely be sued under the Endangered Species Act.

“Lobos are struggling to survive. It's been nearly four years since the feds have released a new Mexican wolf in to the wild, yet the feds are focused on spinning their anti-science political deals,” said PEER Southwest Director Daniel Patterson. “Scientific integrity continues to suffer in the Obama Interior Department. Bureaucratic lip service does not help imperiled wildlife.”

“This complaint was a chance for the agency to come clean and do the right thing,” added Ruch. “Instead, the Fish & Wildlife Service – and many of these same officials – will cling to the same pattern exhibited during the Bush years of denying the obvious until slapped into reality with a court order. Meanwhile, the Mexican wolf may be litigated to extinction.”

Related links

Monday, September 24, 2012

National Parks struggle on religious displays, constitution

Religious display at Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona.

ALBUQUERQUE -- The National Park Service has announced that tomorrow it will remove a Buddhist stupa from New Mexico’s Petroglyph National Monument.  While ending one long-standing controversy about religious displays in national parks, the National Park Service (NPS) continues to dither on others, such as the bronze plaques bearing Biblical verses at Grand Canyon National Park and the sanctioned sale of a book in park bookstores claiming that the Grand Canyon was carved by Noah’s Flood only 7,000 years ago, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). 

NPS inadvertently purchased the stupa – a ten-foot structure containing Buddhist relics – back in 1990 in acquiring lands for Petroglyph National Monument.  In 2010, NPS publicly assured local Buddhists, who were worried the stupa might be razed, that it would not move the religious structure. That September, PEER asked the agency to review both the constitutionality of a government-maintained religious display as well as its consistency with federal land management policies.

It took NPS leadership two years to finally reach a decision.  According to NPS spokesman Rick Frost, a Tibetan lama has officially “deconsecrated” the stupa so it can be moved on September 25th to private lands chosen by the local Buddhist community 15 miles away.

“PEER is glad the Park Service finally cured a clear constitutional violation from public lands they are supposed to manage,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, hailing an overdue end to the agency’s “stupa stupor.” “The fact that it took the Park Service more than two years of flopping around before finally doing the right thing suggests that it would benefit from a national policy on religious displays.”

In the same September 2010 letter, PEER also raised the issue of the use of NPS personnel to erect and maintain bronze plaques with verses from the Psalms at Grand Canyon overlooks.  The plaques are sponsored by a Christian group called the Evangelical Sisterhood of Mary.

Also left unresolved is the nearly decade-long dispute concerning NPS approval to sell a creationist text, entitled “Grand Canyon: A Different View” in park bookstores and museums.  Two different Grand Canyon superintendents, seven years apart, asked NPS Headquarters to make a ruling.  Despite the fact that NPS policy clearly forbids approval or sale of such a book in park-sanctioned facilities, various functionaries, including the current Director and two of his predecessors, have ducked making a decision.

“The Park Service should remove all religious displays, not just the Buddhist ones,” Ruch added, noting that similar NPS indecision resulted in a case involving a large cross on a hill in the middle of Mojave National Preserve being litigated all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.  “The law and rules are clear; there is not a shred of legal uncertainty preventing the Park Service from making these decisions in a timely fashion.  What has been lacking is Park Service leadership with the moral courage to make the right calls in the face of political flak.”

“America's national parks are inspiring. The government should leave the inspiration up to individual choice by staying out of religion,” said PEER Southwest Director Daniel Patterson. “The overdue decision at Petroglyph is fair and wise. The National Park Service must also deal with the constitutional conflict at the Grand Canyon.”

Related links

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Citizens sue US Forest Service over concession fees

Extra fees unpopular at Rose Canyon Lake AZ.

TUCSON -- The Forest Service allows facilities operated by commercial concessionaires to charge fees that the agency is prohibited from charging. A nationwide policy of privatizing recreation sites on National Forests is being challenged in federal court by a diverse group of stakeholders in three western states.

In a civil suit filed Wednesday in Washington DC, the plaintiffs assert that the U.S. Forest Service allows private concessionaires to charge recreation fees that the agency itself is prohibited from charging. These fees include access to undeveloped areas, scenic overlooks, and charges solely for parking. Also at issue is the Forest Service's policy that new fees imposed through the issuance of special use permits to concessionaires can bypass the public comment and citizen advisory committee review that federal law requires.

Recreation fees on federal land are governed by the 2004 Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act, or REA. Fees are authorized under the REA for campgrounds and day use sites that meet certain minimum requirements, but fees are expressly prohibited for some activities even where those requirements are met. According to REA, new fee sites require public notice and review, but the Forest Service is not following this standard in overseeing private management of new fee sites. The Forest Service has taken the position that the REA's requirements and restrictions only apply when the fee is collected directly by the agency. When contracting with a private concessionaire to operate a recreation site, the Forest Service claims, the fees charged by the concessionaire are exempt from the REA.

The REA also established federal recreation passes that can be purchased at a national or regional level to cover day use site fees and provide discounts on camping for seniors and those with permanent disabilities. The Forest Service is obligated to accept these federal passes, but they allow their private concessionaires to reject them. As more and more sites are placed under concessionaire permits, the value of federal passes is dramatically diluted. Concessionaires often issue their own private annual passes and require those for access to the federal facilities under private control.

About half of all Forest Service campgrounds are operated by concessionaires, representing about 80% of reservable campsites, which tend to be in the most popular places. Since the passage of the REA in 2004 the Forest Service has been transferring day use sites to concession management as well, and income from day use now represents about 12% of concessionaire revenue. Many of these day use sites were never approved for fees through the public participation and review process required in the REA. Some do not qualify for fees at all because they are undeveloped sites that only provide access to trails, rivers, or lakes.

The plaintiffs in the case include Bark, an Oregon non-profit that watchdogs the Mt Hood National Forest, and five individuals in Oregon, Arizona, and Colorado who are working with the Western Slope No-Fee Coalition. All are being represented by Matt Kenna, a Colorado-based public interest attorney.

The five places named in the suit are representative of hundreds of others across the country. They are the developed recreation sites on Oregon's Mt Hood National Forest, including the popular Bagby Hot Springs and Big Eddy day use sites, Rose Canyon Lake on the Coronado National Forest in Arizona, Second Crossing on the Tonto National Forest in Arizona, Walton Lake on the Ochoco National Forest in Oregon, and Rampart Reservoir on the Pike National Forest in Colorado.

"These recreation facilities are located on federal land and were built with taxpayer dollars. The Forest Service can't just declare them exempt from federal law by hiring private contractors to run them. It's a backdoor route to the privatization of our public lands and an outrageous disregard of congressional direction," said Olivia Schmidt, Program Director at Bark.

"We have been raising these concerns with the Forest Service for several years but they have refused to adjust their policies," said Kitty Benzar, President of the No-Fee Coalition. "They seem to be more concerned with the profitability of the concessionaires than with providing access to affordable recreation for the American public. This litigation is being undertaken to establish that the National Forests belong to the people, not the federal agencies and their profit-driven recreation industry partners."

"Rose Canyon Lake in the Catalina Mountains and similar concession fee sites on National Forests should be returned to public control and open access," said Daniel Patterson, sportsman and former state lawmaker. "Federal Forest Service schemes to privatize our American public lands and charge taxpayers more for access are unfair, unwise and should end." Rep. Patterson was a plaintiff in a recent federal lawsuit that struck down the unpopular Catalina Mountains fee on the Coronado National Forest near Tucson.

Saturday, September 08, 2012

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Anti-science politics hurts Mexican wolves across southwest

Who's responsible? Obama's Interior Secretary Ken Salazar (middle) and USFWS Director Dan Ashe (left).

SILVER CITY, N.M. -- Key scientific findings on what is needed to recover the foundering Mexican wolf in the American Southwest have become bargaining chips with states hostile to reintroduction of this nearly extinct predator, according to documents posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The virtual veto power given to states by the Obama administration has left the fate of the Mexican wolf in limbo, despite a clear scientifically-supported recovery plan.

The documents obtained by PEER under the Freedom of Information Act illustrate U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service officials making decisions based on political consequences rather than on what is the best science or what is best for the Mexican wolf, among the most endangered mammals on the continent, including:
  • Giving affected states power to bar designation of Mexican wolf habitat within their borders, even if that habitat is unquestionably suitable, with assurances such as “we need Utah support to have recovery of Mexican wolves in Utah” and “we are not going to focus recovery on the backs of Colorado and Utah…”, according to minutes from a November 2011 federal-state meeting;
  • Trading off protections for Mexican wolves at the expense of gray wolves – “By acknowledging that the range of the Mexican wolf includes these five states [AZ, NM, CO, UT and TX] through a subspecies listing, the Service would be able to justify delisting the gray wolf in these states” (emphasis in original), according to agency “talking points” for bargaining sessions; and
  • Refusing to defend its own Science and Planning Subgroup on Mexican wolf recovery, consisting of eight of the nation’s top experts, from attacks by states, such as this barb from Utah officials – “the individual members are qualified from an academic or experience standpoint, but their philosophical preference for widespread distribution of wolves throughout the Rocky Mountains is pervasive in their recommendations” – recommendations the Service has yet to adopt.
“By choosing to politically appease recalcitrant states, the Fish & Wildlife Service is pursuing a strategy that will delay for at least another decade any effective efforts to recover wild populations of Mexican wolves,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that the Science and Planning Subgroup draft recovery criteria have been sitting on a shelf for a year. “Further delay will harm the genetic health of this struggling subspecies and jeopardize prospects for its future recovery and delisting.”

In June, PEER filed a scientific misconduct complaint against federal and state officials for their actions on Mexican wolf recovery. The complaint was made under recent Department of Interior rules purporting to ban political manipulation of science and to root resource-related decision-making in only the best available science. The PEER complaint has been forwarded to a Fish & Wildlife official who is still investigating his own agency and its partners.

“These documents depict in detail the political machinations driving what are supposed to be purely science-based decisions,” added Ruch. “These documents also strongly suggest that lawsuits are the main factor preventing the science from being completely corrupted or chucked overboard.”

“While ignoring and manipulating science, the feds also wrongly refuse to release more Lobos into the wild, and unwisely want to remove an important mother wolf in New Mexico,” said Daniel Patterson, Ecologist and Southwest Director of PEER. “Ongoing political corruption of wildlife agency managers is a major reason endangered Mexican wolves still struggle in the American southwest.”

It's been 1388 days -- nearly 4 years -- since USFWS has released a new Mexican wolf into the wild.

Link to documents

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Court: Rep. Daniel Patterson not guilty on all charges

Former Arizona Rep. Daniel Patterson is not guilty.

TUCSON -- @DanPattersonUSA, Aug 22: 'Court finds me NOT GUILTY on all DV charges pushed by Tucson City Atty & haters. Truth & justice win! AZ politicians dissed my voters.'

@DanPattersonUSA, Aug 24: 'Pols Vogt, Campbell & Hobbs rushed to judgment, blocked due process, don't respect court, & now spin on trying to justify their error.'

Listen to NPR news coverage. Read Arizona Republic article. See also KOLD CBS 13.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Daniel's family photo of the day, Aug 17

Daniel and daughter Ruby at Wilderness State Park MI on Great Lakes, July 2012 @DanPattersonUSA photo by Gwen Hayball.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Brewer must hold Husted accountable at AZGFD

TUCSON -- Arizona hunters who know and follow the rules are disturbed Arizona Game & Fish Commissioner Jack Husted violated our state wildlife conservation laws.

Husted admits he was responsible for illegally shooting a Gunnison prairie dog out-of-season in April. Responsible hunters know the seasons and rules before they shoot. A state wildlife commissioner should certainly know the rules he makes. Husted's ignorance is alarming.

Conservation law enforcement officers followed the law and did the right thing by ticketing Husted after his admission of the illegal killing. Then he strangely plead not guilty. Everyone is entitled to fair due process, but his admission makes this situation seem clear.

Gov. Jan Brewer has been silent on this. She appointed Husted, and she should hold him accountable by asking for his resignation now. Brewer can then appoint a new wildlife commissioner who will know and follow the rules he makes.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Fishing Pure Michigan

Gone Fishing: One of many big bluegill I caught in Emmet County MI, July 2012

photo by Tony Dunaske

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Feds push risky border walls on Rio Grande

Flooded border wall built earlier on part of your Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge




BORDER WALL TO BE BUILT IN RIO GRANDE FLOODPLAIN
Flooding Danger, Mexico Protest and Wildlife Concerns Brushed Off

RIO GRANDE CITY, Texas -- U.S. Customs and Border Patrol has secured the final approval to erect three sections of a border wall in the floodplain of the Rio Grande, according to documents recently obtained by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Officials are disregarding warnings that these new 14 miles of barriers could block flood water from draining into the Rio Grande, bottling it up in towns and farm land and significantly worsening damage inflicted.

These three border wall sections will consist of concrete bollards spaced four inches apart and topped by as much as 15 feet of steel fencing. If the bollards become choked with storm debris, the structures will function as dams, deflecting water out of the river channel and perhaps even changing the channel of the River itself (and thus our border). The wall sections are slated to be placed in the Rio Grande floodplain adjacent to the South Texas communities of Roma, Rio Grande City and Los Ebanos.

“It's nearly certain these border walls in the floodplain will jam with logs, trash and other debris, damming water and harmfully changing the flow of the Rio Grande,” said Daniel Patterson, Ecologist and Southwest Director of PEER. “These unwise walls in the river will not make the border safer, in fact these walls will likely cause dangerous floods, and block more wildlife corridors on the refuge for Ocelots and other imperiled animals.”

Final permission came in an unannounced about-face by an obscure agency, United States Section of the International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC), this past February. Since 2007, the USIBWC, which jointly oversees border flood control facilities with its Mexican counterpart, had consistently refused to approve construction of border walls in the floodplain or any structures that could not be removed in the event of a flood. The USIBWC action came in the form of a letter from its engineer declaring the agency “has no objection to the erection of the fence segments within the limits of the Rio Grande floodplain.” This reversal is surprising in several regards because it –

* Ignores the protest of the Mexican government. The Principal Engineer of the Mexican IBWC wrote that “the fence would occupy nearly all of the hydraulic area on the U.S. side, causing the deflection of flows towards the Mexican side”;
* Comes with the admission that the USIBWC did “not review these fence projects for any potential environmental impacts.” The new border walls slice through the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge, established to create a wildlife corridor along the Rio Grande; and
* Dispenses with the requirement that “License or permit is required from the USIBWC for any proposed activities crossing or encroaching upon the floodplains….”

“Customs and Border Control is exempt from every law designed to prevent this very type of disastrous stupidity, but common sense and decency demand that this dangerous and misguided project go back on the shelf,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, pointing to the fact that Congress set aside virtually all environmental and resource protection laws on border security matters. “While Customs and Border Patrol are exempt from certain control statutes, the USIBWC is not.”

PEER is asking in a letter sent today that the USIBWC explain why its approval does not violate our treaty with Mexico, various environmental laws and its own rules.

In a related matter, USIBWC maintains two gigantic storage dams on the Rio Grande, which the agency has conceded pose extreme threats of massive downstream flooding. PEER is currently suing USIBWC to force release of reports concerning the admittedly hazardous conditions of these dams, as well as inundation maps for the communities that lie downstream.

More on this from PEER with links to documents, etc.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

PEER responds ABQ Journal editorial on Petroglyph

ABQ Mayor Richard Berry (R)

ALBUQUERQUE -- The Journal makes some good points in 'Encourage the Public To Protect Petroglyphs', June 11.

Certainly congress and the public envisioned better conservation management for the rich and fragile Petroglyph National Monument.

Both city and National Park Service bureaucrats share blame for not protecting Petroglyph. Better cooperation is critical. NPS has authority under the enabling act establishing Petroglyph to enforce its laws on city lands in the Boca Negra and Piedras Marcadas units. NPS chooses not to because the city has not consented, but NPS wants a stronger partnership. The city has not agreed.

Petroglyph is the crown jewel of ABQ open space, but the city almost never schedules events, clean ups, etc. for volunteers there. Volunteers are important, but cannot do the job of stronger ranger patrols and consistent conservation management. Petroglyph conservation will happen only if Mayor Berry chooses cooperation to solve the long-time problems there.

We are here to help.

Daniel R. Patterson
Ecologist and Southwest Director
Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER)

Please sign petition to clean up Petroglyph
More info and photos

Friday, June 22, 2012

Barber votes against environment, health, rights

Rep. Ron Barber (D)

TUCSON -- I'm disappointed and shocked new Congressman Ron Barber's 1st vote in the US House June 19 was to allow feds to waive environmental and public health law anywhere within 100 miles of the border. This legislation is bad for Arizona and our quality of life. It removes rule of law within Barber's entire district.

Rep. Barber’s statement this bad legislation “will make our borders more secure” is refuted by Border Patrol officials and research by the respected Government Accountability Office. Homeland Security officials have repeatedly testified to Congress under oath that environmental laws pose no security threat and the bill is not necessary. In a 2010 report by the GAO, an overwhelming majority of Border Patrol agents interviewed “reported that the overall security status of their jurisdiction is not affected by land management laws.”

I urge Senators to dismiss this devastating big government overreach and ensure the environment, public health, property rights & historic preservation are protected in America’s borderlands. DRP

Monday, June 18, 2012

A Romney admin. would be bad for environment

UPDATE, June 27: Romney's toxic record

ROMNEY NOT LIKELY TO BE A CONSERVATION PRESIDENT
— Dismal Land Preservation Record in MA Bodes Ill for Natural Legacy

WASHINGTON — Under Governor Mitt Romney, land preservation efforts in Massachusetts took a nose dive, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). During Romney’s tenure, sprawl accelerated, less land was protected and the Commonwealth disinvested in preservation.

Shortly after taking office, Gov. Romney created the Office of Commonwealth Development (OCD). The shift of policy embodied by OCD was moving away from permanently protecting land and instead encouraging new projects in already developed areas. The problem with this approach was that unprotected land still gets developed. As a result:
  • By Romney’s last year in office, Massachusetts was protecting fewer acres than under his predecessors. Acreage protected fell from more than 33,000 acres protected in 2001 to less than 6,900 acres in 2006 – a lower total than any year since 1991.
  • On average, 40 acres of undeveloped land were lost per day in the Commonwealth as the level of state investment in open space preservation and the amount of land protected both dropped; and
  • By shrinking the role of state environmental agencies in selecting lands for protection, some of the most environmentally sensitive lands were targeted for development while more marginal tracts are left as open space.

“What occurred under Romney was the opposite of smart growth,” stated New England PEER Director Kyla Bennett, a former lawyer and biologist with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. “Romney’s central failing was substituting rhetoric for real investment and, as a consequence, our Commonwealth’s future generations are the poorer for it.”

Ironically, even as the amount of protected acreage went down the cost per acre went up. The cost of preserving one acre rose from $3,400 in 2000 to more than $5,000 per acre in 2006.

Besides open space policies, Romney public work projects developed natural places. Perhaps the most notorious example was his decision to drain Blue Hills Reservoir, the heart of a natural park protected since 1893. It was the largest net loss of wetlands in Massachusetts since 1990. After an administrative law judge ruled that filling the reservoir without adequate mitigation violated state law, Romney appointees overrode that decision.

After the reservoir was drained, the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority buried huge concrete tanks filled with 20 million gallons of water to serve as a one-day emergency drinking water reserve for 100,000 customers, mostly in Quincy. The site was then covered with dirt and sod.

“What happened at Blue Hills epitomized the stunted environmental priorities of the Romney administration,” added Bennett. “This same approach on a national level could put our conservation heritage at risk.”

full PEER news release with links

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Politics at Obama Interior molest Mex. Wolf science

POLITICS MOLEST MEXICAN WOLF SCIENCE — Improper Pressure to Lower Recovery Threshold for Wolf Numbers and Habitat Size

ALBUQUERQUE — Despite pledging to shield environmental science from political manipulation, the Obama administration is injecting politics to alter key scientific findings on what is required to revive the struggling Mexican wolf in the Southwest, according to a scientific integrity complaint filed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). As a result, one of the nation’s highest profile Endangered Species Act recovery efforts is severely compromised.

The Mexican wolf is one of the most endangered mammals in North America. The sole wild population of Mexican wolves grew from 4 individuals in 1998 to 55 in 2003, at which time more aggressive removal was instituted. Since then, the population has plateaued, remaining below 60 wolves through 2011.

In 2010, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) concluded that the Mexican wolf “is not thriving” due to lack of an up-to-date management plan, illegal shooting; and genetic inbreeding. The cumulative impacts of these factors “threaten the population with failure.” The agency then convened eight experts to serve on a special Science and Planning Subgroup of the Mexican Wolf Recovery Team.

Through the next two years, this scientific subgroup unanimously concluded that Mexican wolf recovery required three populations of 200-350 wolves connected by corridors. They also found the best suitable habitat for reintroduction included southern Colorado and southern Utah. The political pushback within the FWS and from affected states against these scientific findings has been unrelenting, including –

  • Pressure to lower the number of wolves needed or jettison a numeric threshold altogether, as in this FWS email to the scientists (“he” refers to the Southwest Regional Director):
“You should not feel undo [sic] pressure at this point to accommodate, per se, but you should recognize that this is his way of telling you (at least at this point) what information he would like to see.”
  • Demands to exclude Utah and other states from suitable habitat; and
  • Attempts to prevent the science subgroup from issuing final Mexican wolf recovery criteria.

“The science on Mexican wolf recovery has become a political football,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, who filed the scientific misconduct complaint today against federal and state officials. “The time for political negotiation comes after the scientific work is done. In this instance, Obama officials are attempting to improperly pre-negotiate the science to accommodate political partners.”

Under Department of Interior rules, the PEER complaint is supposed to trigger an independent scientific review with findings and potential discipline for responsible officials. Since these policies have been in effect, however, there have been several complaints but no reported findings of scientific misconduct.

“The Obama administration is skewing scientific work for political purposes in precisely the same way they accused Bush appointees of doing,” Ruch added. “Publicly exposing these behind-the-scenes manipulations may be the best way to end them.”

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Petroglyph Nat. Mon. imperiled, needs your help

Mayor Richard Berry inherited a mess at Petroglyph. People are calling on him to fix it.

ALBUQUERQUE — The Petroglyph National Monument is a major asset for the City of Albuquerque and New Mexico but its rich trove of cultural and natural resources is threatened by the inability of the City and the National Park Service (NPS) to cooperatively manage the two-thirds of the monument that is City-owned land, according to documents posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). As a result, there are no consistent management standards or patrols protecting the invaluable rock art for which the Monument was created.

Petroglyph National Monument curves 17 miles along Albuquerque’s western horizon, containing an estimated 22,000 petroglyphs. Its urban proximity is both a charm and a curse, as its rock art, wildlife and open land are especially susceptible to human impacts, ranging from vandalism to illegal dumping. Some of the City’s areas still bear extensive off-road racing scars.

Under a five-year Cooperative Management Agreement, NPS and the City specify the delegation of their respective responsibilities for the monument. The City, however, refuses to allow NPS rangers to patrol or enforce Park Service rules on City lands, which constitute the bulk of the monument. Due to City service cutbacks, most of the Petroglyph is left unpatrolled. In a July 25, 2011 letter to PEER, NPS Intermountain Regional Director John Wessels stated –

“However, the NPS currently has no agreement with the City of Albuquerque that holistically authorizes NPS to enforce the entirety of 36 CFR Part 2 on lands owned by the city….We would welcome such an agreement and we have, in the past, proposed such an agreement with the City, but the City has not acceded to this proposal.”

The 2008 Cooperative Management Agreement must be renewed by May 2013. Today PEER is launching a citizen petition and national campaign to persuade Albuquerque Mayor Richard J. Berry to allow NPS to provide full monument protection in the upcoming cooperative management pact.

“People want Petroglyph better protected now,” said Daniel Patterson, Southwest Director of PEER. “We call on Mayor Berry and NPS to listen and look at these problems and become stronger partners to restore and guard the monument.”

In addition to the law enforcement problems, monument assets are at risk from neglect and accumulated debris. For example, some petroglyph concentrations are inaccessible and even dangerous to visitors due to fire-magnifying tumbleweed accumulations. Construction waste left dumped over petroglyphs also endangers visitor access in Piedras Marcadas Arroyo.

“It is a disgrace that ancient rock art is obscured by both years of debris and last weekend’s vandalism,” Patterson added. “Petroglyph is not just a regional but a national treasure which deserves the same protections as other national parks.”

Visit PEER's Clean Up Petroglyph campaign center.

Sign petition to ABQ Mayor Berry.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

US science integrity move devolving into mosh pit

WASHINGTON -- A vaunted initiative to restore public confidence in the scientific work of the federal agency with the most tarnished record is foundering, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The U.S. Department of Interior has failed to deliver on its promises to conduct independent investigations of reports of scientific misconduct, prevent political interference or develop protocols to prevent duplicative and conflicting investigations, leaving an opaque jumble of irresolution.

One of the highest profile complaints under Interior’s scientific integrity process (launched in February 2011) involves Arctic researcher Dr. Charles Monnett who charged that his own agency and the Interior Office of Inspector General (OIG) had improperly disrupted his work in a “witch hunt” involving his paper on polar bears drowning after storms. On August 8, 2011, Interior Scientific Integrity Officer Ralph Morganweck wrote that he was “conducting an inquiry into these allegations.” Yet, in a letter to Representative Edward Markey three weeks after pledging to investigate the complaint against OIG (which letter PEER obtained recently under the Freedom of Information Act), Morganweck stated that he had already met with the OIG twice about the. Monnett case and –

“…I will be assisting the OIG in reviewing the scientific integrity claims that have been raised in this matter.”

“This is beyond screwy. How in the name of objectivity can the integrity officer work to assist the subject of a complaint without telling the complainant?” asked PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, who is asking Morganweck to recuse himself from the case but has gotten no reply. “If there is no independence in these reviews, Interior’s scientific integrity process is simply an elaborate exercise in damage control.”

At the same time, the complaint sits in limbo. On April 2, 2012, nearly eight months after accepting the Monnett case, Morganweck wrote to PEER (which represents Dr. Monnett) asking for basic information indicating that he had barely begun a review. Nor has he ever asked to interview Dr. Monnett. Similarly, five months after PEER filed a complaint about improper exclusion of livestock grazing from a massive Bureau of Land Management landscape study there has been little movement. Indeed, the assigned science integrity officer never asked for the list of witnesses PEER had offered.

The conflicting investigations by the OIG and Scientific Integrity Office also prompted promises last summer to develop a protocol to sort out who does what and to insure that OIG probes do not extend into scientific issues for which it has no expertise. Thus, in an August 25, 2011 letter about the Monnett case to Senator James Inhofe, Acting Inspector General Mary Kendall wrote:

“We are, however, in contact with the Department’s Office of Scientific Integrity on this matter and are developing protocols for coordination on such matters in the future.”

Yet, in response to a recent Freedom of Information Act request by PEER for any “protocol, guidance or memorandum of understanding” between the two entities or adopted unilaterally by the OIG on handling scientific misconduct issues, the OIG declared that it had “no documents responsive to your request.”

“Consistent and considered treatment of allegations are among the stated goals of Interior’s Scientific Integrity policy, yet this failure to coordinate makes every scientific controversy into a bureaucratic jump ball,” Ruch added, noting that PEER is preparing a series of reforms it will file as rule-making petitions this summer to fix holes in the procedures. “Interior’s scientific integrity program has broken down coming out of the gate and needs to be retooled.”

link to documents

- from PEER