Thursday, August 08, 2013

Gray wolf peer review panel purged by feds: US Dept. of Interior-Fish & Wildlife Service forces contractor to axe scientists due to sign-on letter

Obama's FWS Dir. Ashe & Interior Sec. Jewell
UPDATE, 8/12: "The Interior Department is putting the brakes on a scientific peer review of its proposal to remove Endangered Species Act protections for wolves after discovering it had improper knowledge of the scientists who would be participating in the review," reports E&E today.

WASHINGTON — Three of the nation’s top wolf experts have been excluded from the scientific peer review of the plan to remove federal protections from the gray wolf on orders from the U.S. Dept. of Interior-Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS). The scientists were barred because they had signed a letter with 13 other scientists expressing concern about the scientific basis for the federal plan, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).

The federal wolf de-listing plan is the subject of an accelerated peer review conducted by a private consultant firm, AMEC, chosen by FWS. Although the peer review is supposed to be independent of FWS, the agency controls selection of the reviewers engaged by the contractor.

FWS exercised that control in blocking at least three of the seven names on AMEC's list of reviewers chosen for their qualifications: Dr. Roland Kays of North Carolina State University, Dr. Jon Vucetich of Michigan Technological University and Dr. Robert Wayne of the University of California, Los Angeles. All have published extensively on the wolf and are considered preeminent experts.

In an August 7th email to one of the scientists, an AMEC official stated that the FWS had vetoed his participation in the peer review even though the firm had already selected him for his qualifications:

“I apologize for telling you that you were on the project and then having to give you this news. I understand how frustrating it must be, but we have to go with what the service [sic] wants.”

While the FWS claims that it seeks an “unbiased” review panel, given that this issue has received much discussion in both the media and scientific journals over the past decade the agency’s posture results in the exclusion of almost all qualified wolf scientists. This may leave the panel with only those experts who have never opined publicly on the issue, either because they favor delisting or they feel it inappropriate to comment on such proposals due to income from federal contracts.

“To avoid dealing with the serious scientific concerns raised by its delisting plan, the Fish & Wildlife Service is packing the review panel for its own proposal,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. “Selecting your own reviewers defeats the purpose of independent peer review.”

The May 21st letter signed by the 16 prominent wolf researchers presented a number of serious scientific concerns with the gray wolf delisting plan as well as lack of designated habitat for the highly endangered Mexican wolf. The letter was submitted as a public comment to which the Service has yet to respond, although this week’s action suggests it was read.

The FWS disqualification of scientists appears at odds with White House Office of Management & Budget guidance which states that selection of peer reviewers should be primarily driven by expertise of the reviewer, followed by a need for balance to reflect competing scientific viewpoints followed by their independence from the agency.

“Firing independent expert wolf scientists confirms concerns by wildlife advocates nationwide that political appointees at US Interior already have their minds made up to end wolf protections no matter what the science says. They don't want an independent peer review of their flawed, rushed political plan to end US wolf protections,” said PEER Ecologist Daniel Patterson.

The AMEC wolf peer review is slated to be completed by September 11th but the peer reviewers will not be provided with the public comments containing issues raised by scientific experts.

“Steamrolling a fast-track scientific review on a matter of this controversy underlines that it is politics not science driving the decision-making,” Ruch added. “If it wants to maintain any credibility, the Fish & Wildlife Service should openly address and resolve the array of serious scientific criticisms which have been leveled. This peer review charade will only lead to more litigation which could have been avoided.”

Link to full news release with documents, etc. 

- adapted from PEER

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Arizona leading bad national trend to restrict voting rights. Overturn HB 2305

STATE CAPITOL, PHOENIX -- Media outlets recently dubbed North Carolina’s sweeping new voter restriction legislation the “worst in the nation.”

But Arizona’s new roadblocks to get tough on voters -- House Bill 2305 -- is in many ways worse than North Carolina because it was approved on top of some of the nation’s most restrictive voting laws already in place, said Julie Erfle, Chairwoman of the Protect Your Right To Vote Arizona Committee. Erfle is leading a broad and diverse coalition working together to overturn HB2305 through a voter referendum. HB 2305 helps career politicians rig the system by preventing tens of thousands of eligible voters from casting their ballots. The bill will kick people off the early voter rolls and make it a felony for volunteer groups to help elderly, homebound and economically disadvantaged voters get their early voting ballots to the polls. It also helps politicians hold onto power by keeping third parties off the ballot and making it extremely difficult for Arizonans to overturn the Legislature’s decisions through citizen initiatives.

After the United States Supreme Court voted to gut the 1964 Civil Rights act in June, North Carolina, Texas and several other states quickly introduced new legislation to discourage the poor and minorities from voting. Arizona’s effort to get even tougher on voters had passed and was signed by Gov. Jan Brewer just days before the Court ruled.

“If you compare the main prongs of North Carolina’s anti-voter bill to what’s already in law in Arizona, you can clearly see why so many organizations are working together to stop career politicians from making it even harder for eligible Arizona voters to cast their ballots,” Erfle said. “House Bill 2305 was an attempt by incumbent politicians at the legislature to take out all their competition at once. But it’s not right for politicians to pick their voters, it should be the other way around.”

Compare the two states:

· North Carolina will eliminate same-day voter registration. Arizona does not allow voters to register on election day, and in fact shuts down registration a month out, which shuts out many potential voters.

· North Carolina will reduce early voting by a week. Arizona allows in-person early voting at limited sites, but it is rarely used compared to the more popular mail-in ballots. However, mail-in ballots must be mailed by the Friday before Election Day or dropped off at a polling place. In Maricopa County AZ, 2,500 mailed ballots were received after the Tuesday Election Day and were not counted. That number will rise dramatically because HB2305 makes it a crime for volunteer organizations to drop early ballots for voters that – if mailed too late – won’t be counted.

· North Carolina will eliminate the option to vote a straight party ticket. Arizona does not allow that now.

· North Carolina will blow the lid off its legislative campaign finance donations, raising the individual limit to $5,000. Arizona legislators pass an identical law, House Bill 2593, in this session.

· North Carolina will repeal out-of-precinct voting. Arizona does not allow voters to cast in-person ballots in wrong precincts. In fact, more than 7,500 votes were disallowed in Maricopa County because poll workers improperly issued provisional ballots to voters who had showed up to the wrong polling places instead of directing them to the correct location.

· North Carolina will now allow any voter to challenge the eligibility of someone’s voting status. This state-sanctioned harassment of voters is already legal in Arizona and is heavily promoted by the Republican Party as part of its “True the Vote” program.

“On top of this, House Bill 2305 also makes it extremely difficult for citizen initiatives and third-party candidates to get on the ballot,” Erfle added. “North Carolina is bad, but Arizona is really the perfect storm of politicians protecting themselves instead of protecting our right to vote.”

“Entrenched, self-serving political bosses and their greedy lobbyist puppet masters at the Arizona Legislature continue to attack citizen’s voting rights and our democracy,” said former Arizona lawmaker Rep. Daniel Patterson, of Tucson. “Fair voting is the foundation of our democracy and it must be encouraged and easy, not discouraged and harder. HB 2305 is voter suppression and it must be overturned. Everyone’s vote must count.”

There are many election reforms that Arizona needs to implement, but HB 2305 addresses none of them. An in-depth analysis of the 2012 election revealed numerous concerns that county elections officials refuse to acknowledge or address. Those concerns include:

· The backlog of uncounted votes on Election Day in 2012 had less to do with the 170,000 ballots dropped off at the polls than with a backlog of 250,000 uncounted early votes, which created a colossal traffic jam. Election officials must start counting these votes earlier and running the machines all day Sunday, Monday and Tuesday to eliminate any backlog.

· The largest grouping of provisional votes that were disqualified was voters who showed up to the wrong polling place. Election workers should have directed these voters to the correct location. Instead, because poll workers didn’t receive proper training they gave more than 7,500 eligible voters provisional ballots that were subsequently disqualified. Why did this happen and what is being done to prevent it in 2014?

“It’s time for elected campaign officials to stop blaming voters for their problems handling the increasing popularity of early voting,” Erfle said. “The only way House Bill 2305 will make matters more convenient for election officials is to prevent or discourage tens of thousands of eligible voters from voting. We should pass laws to make it easier to vote, not harder.”

- adapted from Protect Your Right to Vote Committee