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

Monday, May 14, 2012

33M acres Interior open range fail land health test

Your imperiled western public lands, BLM in yellow (click to enlarge map)

LIVESTOCK’S HEAVY HOOVES IMPAIR ONE-THIRD OF BLM RANGELANDS: 33M Acres of BLM Grazing Allotments Fail Basic Rangeland Health Standards

TUCSON -- A new federal assessment of rangelands in the West finds a disturbingly large portion fails to meet range health standards principally due to commercial livestock operations, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). In the last decade as more land has been assessed, estimates of damaged lands have doubled in the 13-state Western area where the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) conducts major livestock leasing.

The “Rangeland Inventory, Monitoring and Evaluation Report for Fiscal Year 2011” covers BLM allotments in Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington and Wyoming. The report totals BLM acreage failing to meet rangeland health standards in measures such as water quality, watershed functionality and wildlife habitat:

  • Almost 40% of BLM allotments surveyed since 1998 have failed to meet the agency’s own required land health standards with impairment of more than 33 million acres, an area exceeding the State of Alabama in size, attributed to livestock grazing;
  • Overall, 30% of BLM’s allotment area surveyed to date suffers from significant livestock-induced damage, suggesting that once the remaining allotments have been surveyed, the total impaired area could well be larger than the entire State of Washington; and
  • While factors such as drought, fire, invasion by non-native plants, and sprawl are important, livestock grazing is identified by BLM experts as the primary cause (nearly 80%) of BLM lands not meeting health standards.
“Livestock’s huge toll inflicted on our public lands is a hidden subsidy which industry is never asked to repay,” stated PEER Advocacy Director Kirsten Stade, noting that the percentage of impairment in lands assessed remains fairly consistent over the past decade. “The more we learn about actual conditions, the longer is the ecological casualty list.”

Last November, PEER filed a scientific integrity complaint that BLM had directed scientists to exclude livestock grazing as a factor in changing landscapes as part of a $40 million study, the biggest such effort ever undertaken by BLM. The complaint was referred to a newly appointed Scientific Integrity Officer for BLM but there are no reports of progress in the agency’s self-investigation in the ensuing months.

“BLM controls more American public land than any other government agency, and they continue to fail to conserve the health of the land,” said Daniel Patterson, Ecologist & Southwest PEER Director. He formerly worked with BLM. “Degraded rangelands harm wildlife, water, hunting, fishing and recreation on our lands. BLM remains hijacked by the livestock lobby.”

At the same time, BLM range evaluations, such as this latest one, use ambiguous categories that mask actual conditions, employing vague terms such as “making significant progress” and “appropriate action has been taken to ensure significant progress” that obscure damage estimates and inflate the perception of restoration progress. For example, in 2001 nearly 60% of BLM lands (94 million acres, an area larger than Montana) consisted of grazing allotments that were supposed to be managed to “improve the current resource condition” – a number that has stayed unchanged for a decade.

“Commercial livestock operations are clearly a major force driving degradation of wild places, jeopardy to wildlife, major loss of water quality and growing desertification throughout the American West,” Stade added, while noting that BLM has historically been dominated by livestock interests. “The BLM can no longer remain in denial on the declining health of our vast open range.”

link to documents

- from PEER

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Wolf conservation hijacked by special interests

Too many wolves being killed by humans in Montana & Idaho.

HELENA MT -- Just as the Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks Commission will consider increasing its wolf hunting quota for the 2012-2013 season, western conservation researchers have released a report on Northern Rocky Mountain wolves that argues that two user groups, the livestock industry and some hunting organizations, caused decision-makers to prematurely revoke federal protection for the population and it is now in jeopardy from too high levels of hunting. The report describes the many negative biological, ecological, economic and social effects of wolf hunting and should be used to inform the current debate about wolf quotas.

“The livestock industry and some hunting groups pressured Congress to de-list wolves based upon grossly inaccurate claims,” stated Wendy Keefover, Director of Carnivore Protection for WildEarth Guardians. “Now Montana’s decision-makers are under their spell and willing to consider a longer, more deadly hunting and trapping season that could have even more devastating effects on wolves.”

“A handful of hostile ranchers using American public lands and government bureaucrats must not be allowed to persecute wolves back to the edge of extinction," said Daniel Patterson, a western big game hunter and ecologist. "The States of Montana and Idaho have done poorly so far on wolf conservation and must improve now if they want to keep control. State wildlife officials should listen more to the pro-wolf hunters and ranchers.” Mr. Patterson is also a former western state lawmaker.

Congress, in unprecedented action, legislatively de-listed Northern Rockies wolves from the Endangered Species Act in spring 2011. Idaho and Montana commenced hunting seasons for wolves in late August and early September, respectively. The two states sold more than 62,000 wolf-hunting tags to hunters and trappers, most of whom were Idaho and Montana residents, who killed more than 500 wolves in eight months, eliminating more than a third of the bi-state population (estimated at fewer than 1,300 in 2010). Now Montana is considering lengthening its hunting season, increasing the statewide quota, and even allowing trapping for wolves (Idaho already allows trapping for the species). The Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks Commission will meet on May 10 in Helena to review the policy changes.

The report, Northern Rocky Mountain Wolves: A Public Policy Process Failure, How Two Special Interest Groups Hijacked Wolf Conservation in America, documents how the livestock industry and some hunting groups influenced key federal legislators to de-list Northern Rockies wolves last spring, to the detriment of the wolf restoration and in opposition to majority public opinion. These vocal minorities claimed that wolves had recovered and that packs were depleting domestic livestock and elk herds, but none of these contentions are true.

  • Years of government data show that wolves have a negligible effect on the domestic livestock inventory. , Wolves killed less than one percent of the cattle (0.07 percent) and sheep (0.22 percent) inventories in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming—before the commencement of the 2011-2012 wolf hunting season and even using unverified livestock loss data (that is, the numbers that are based upon livestock growers’ uninvestigated complaints of wolf depradation). Verified livestock losses are even lower.
  • Wolves also have little effect on elk herds in the Northern Rockies, while biologists have demonstrated how human hunters have a much greater impacts on elk populations than wolves. Moreover, Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming all have abundant elk populations, with over 100,000 animals each, with each state managing its elk population “at” or “above” their own management objectives throughout most of their state.
  • Wolves had not even been recovered to even five percent of their historic range in the West when they were de-listed in the Northern Rockies and unsustainable levels of wolf hunting began in Idaho and Montana. Wyoming is also preparing to offer wolf hunting as soon as the federal government de-lists the species in that state.

The American public has spent $40 million dollars and two decades to restore wolves in the Northern Rockies. Now that effort is threatened because of misguided Congressional action based on mythical claims about the species.

Biologists note that hunting not only has direct effects on individuals, but also causes secondary mortality. Wolves, highly social beings, experience disruptions in their packs from over hunting, which puts pups and yearlings at risk for starvation and death and can cause packs to disband.

The report recommends five ways to reduce wolf/human conflicts and to conserve wolf populations in the Northern Rockies, including restoring federal protection for Northern Rockies wolves until local hostility towards wolves dissipates; designating more more protected areas for wolves, such as national parks; employing a host of non-lethal methods to protect domestic livestock from wolves; authorizing voluntarily grazing permit retirement on federal public lands; and prioritizing wolf-watching tourism which generates much higher revenue for the region than wolf hunting.

“The federal government and western states must act quickly to protect wolves for our environment, economy, and future generations, or they may end up right back on the endangered species list,” said Keefover.

- adapted from WEG news release

Note: I'm a western big game hunter and I'm pro-wolf. I'm not anti-hunting or anti-ranching. DRP

Thursday, May 03, 2012

How would environment do under a Pres. Romney?

How would the environment fare under a President Romney? Not very well, his record as Massachusetts Governor suggests

WASHINGTON -- As Massachusetts Governor, Mitt Romney placed environmental agencies under a business-oriented department, slashed environmental funding and even raided park money to throw a Super Bowl rally for the New England Patriots pro football team. As a result, eco-stewardship sharply declined during Romney’s one term, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).

An overriding theme of the Romney administration was that environmental protection was secondary to economic and political ends. This theme was perhaps best illustrated by his–

* Placing state environmental agencies inside an Office for Commonwealth Development, run by transportation, housing and energy interests. State environmental protection decisions thus became subject to approval by managers with primarily economic portfolios. His successor, Gov. Deval Patrick, undid the reorganization in 2008;

* Cutting environmental funding for Massachusetts by 25%. The Romney cuts were so deep that the Commonwealth could no longer meet basic federal anti-pollution requirements; and

* Taking some $45,000 in states parks and conservation money to stage a Super Bowl send-off rally for the New England Patriots over the objections of his Conservation & Recreation Commissioner. Romney then summarily removed her and her top deputy after they refused to hire a Republican politician his office was pushing.

“The Romney administration was a nightmare for environmental protection in Massachusetts,” stated New England PEER Director Kyla Bennett, a scientist and attorney formerly with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. “Keep in mind that he wreaked havoc during a period when he was positioning himself as a moderate. I shudder to think what he would do now on a national level.”

The Patriots rally cost Massachusetts taxpayers approximately $18 per attendee. Five days after the rally, four high school students were struck by a pickup truck on VFW Parkway in West Roxbury, a highway managed by the Department of Conservation & Recreation. School officials blamed the accident on poorly plowed sidewalks which had forced the students into the street. Romney’s office also spent hundreds of thousands of dollars for Fourth of July celebrations and a Red Sox victory party.

Since there were no real environmental initiatives under Romney, there is little to point to by way of environmental accomplishments. PEER is preparing a set of in-depth analyses of Romney actions on air pollution, water quality, toxic clean-ups, land use and transparency, among other topics.

“Frankly, as a manager, Governor Romney was very weak in addressing environmental challenges,” Bennett added. “He also employed a non-consultative, autocratic style that barred consideration of alternatives before sailing off in disastrous directions.”

- PEER news release

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

State of Arizona's wildlife scandal in Sonora, Mex.

Arizona Game and Fish Dept. and its Sonoran counterpart CEDES violate trust of Mexican conservation organizations, and possibly wildlife law. Put at risk threatened Black-tailed prairie dog population.



HERMOSILLO, SONORA, MEXICO -- The International and Borderlands Program of the Arizona Game and Fish Department, (IBP-AZGFD) along with the Sonoran counterpart of AZGFD the Comisión de Ecología y Desarrollo Sustentable (CEDES), exploited a loophole in the Mexican legal system to extract 60 prairie dogs from Sonora in October 2011, without thoroughly informing or obtaining consent of local conservation stakeholders, including managers of a Mexican federal protected area, two Mexican non-profits, two Mexican universities and several individual citizens. In doing so, they may have gotten an illegal authorization from a Mexican federal agency and have inappropriately violated the trust of the regional stakeholders.

“This action by the International and Borderlands Program of the AZGFD and CEDES puts at risk one of the two remnant colonies of black-tailed prairie dogs in the Mexican State of Sonora,” said Biologist Oscar Moctezuma, General Director of Naturalia. “We share the AZGFD’s interest in recovering prairie dog colonies in Arizona yet we believe this should not be achieved at the expense of wild populations or local conservation efforts in Sonora. One thing that we called their attention to is that their actions were based on an overestimation of the population, resulting from using a counting method, identified by its very authors as inadequate for circumstances like those in Sonora.”

Black-tailed prairie dogs (Cynomys ludovicianus) are a species that, because of its abundance in parts of the United States, is not listed as an Endangered Species. In Arizona, the Statewide Comprehensive Wildlife Strategy recognizes the black-tailed prairie dog as a species of concern. However, this designation does not result in any protection for the species. In contrast, under Mexican Law (Norma Oficial Mexicana NOM-059-SEMARNAT-2010) the species is listed as Threatened and enjoys full federal protection.

Removing these prairie dogs against the will of the regional stakeholders and using what could very well be an illegal permit could impact years of collaboration between groups on both sides of the border as the two state agencies would find it hard to gain the necessary trust of non-government partners.

By keeping the specific objectives, benchmarks, budget, interagency agreements and calendar of their activities unknown to anybody in the region, and only disclosing their monitoring methods and results at the eleventh hour, officials of the IBP-AZGFD and CEDES have violated the trust they once had of conservation groups who participated in prairie dog conservation meetings with CEDES since August 2010.

Juan Carlos G. Bravo, Naturalia’s northwestern Mexico representative, added “We have filed a lawsuit in a federal court in Mexico City and the CEDES-AZGFD permit has been suspended until a final ruling is reached. We did this because, even though we were not able to prevent the extraction of these 60 animals, CEDES has indicated its intent to continue extractions. It has to allow the population to recover, before extracting any more prairie dogs, and a precedent has to be set that such a permit violates the law and should not have been issued. We expect the court to rule in our favor so prairie dogs can remain in Sonora where, not only are they under federal protection, but where no single instance of plague, their greatest epidemic threat, has been recorded.” AZGFD reported a die-off of prairie dogs due to plague in 2010.

Paula Martin from Prairie Ecosystems, a Colorado based expert who has more than twenty two years of experience relocating colonies in western states, commented, “By extracting incomplete families the International and Borderlands Program of the AZGFD and CEDES have acted with very little regard to the well-being of the prairie dogs or the efforts of conservation groups in our neighboring country. They appear to be plowing ahead with nothing more in mind than their own numeric agendas, despite having many alternative sources for prairie dogs, some of which I even offered to facilitate through negotiations in New Mexico and Texas from colonies threatened with lethal removal.”

Daniel R. Patterson, Tucson-based Ecologist and Southwest Director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), said, "The recklessness of Arizona's Game and Fish Department is harming wildlife and critical relations with our conservation friends in Mexico. This must be stopped. Arizona's once decent wildlife agency seems to have gone rogue. Arizona Game and Fish must be reformed for the common good." Patterson is also an Arizona hunter and former Arizona State Representative who served as Ranking Member on the Arizona House of Representatives Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

Bravo concluded, “If there is to be a genuine, long-lasting regional collaboration, Sonoran citizens have the right to expect that foreign agencies uphold the highest standards of ethics and transparency, especially when dealing with our endangered species. We can’t imagine that Arizonans would approve if their neighbors started exploiting legal loopholes to harvest Arizona’s endangered wildlife, even if their purpose was recovery elsewhere.”

Naturalia is urging the citizens of Arizona to send a letter to Larry Voyles (lvoyles@azgfd.gov), Director of AZGFD, demanding that he stops all plans for further prairie dog extractions from Sonora until its populations have recovered sufficiently and a strategy is put in place that is both included in Mexico’s federal recovery plan (Spanish acronym PACE) and takes into account Mexican conservation non-profits in the region.

- adapted from Naturalia news release