Where mustangs once have been and will be again....
Veedawoo Aragon Escalante Galitzier
Saturday, January 21, 2012
Millions of cattle graze on public lands all over the West and have done so for more than a century. But a new complaint filed by an environmental group charges that despite Clinton-era moves to examine and diminish the impact of grazing in the arid West, Interior Department employees have blocked the use of federal data on the impact in regional scientific studies.
The actions by mid-level Interior employees “seriously compromise” the scientific integrity of efforts to figure out how and why western ecosystems are changing, said the complaint, filed by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, a Washington-based environmental group.
The complaint charges that officials of the Bureau of Land Management not only effectively prevented ecosystem scientists from making grazing a significant part of their regional analyses but also failed to inform them of data gathered by the bureau.
As a result, the discrete impact caused by livestock is ignored when scientists working for the bureau go through the checklist of human and natural forces that could cause erosion, lower water quality or cause the extinction of plants or animals, the complaint says.
Asked about the complaint, Adam Fetcher, a spokesman for the Interior Department, said in a statement, “This allegation will be reviewed under the standard procedures contained in our scientific integrity policy.”
Grazing could be called the third rail of western land-use politics. The Interior Department has granted more than 20,000 grazing allotments on more than 150 million acres of western lands.
Bruce Babbitt, a former Interior secretary, went through a fight on Capitol Hill during the Clinton administration when he proposed changes in grazing policy that would make less land available to ranchers at greater expense. He eventually pushed through some of the changes, but at a significant political cost. Even so, some critics said afterward he had not gone far enough..
This time around, the issue is not rules governing grazing, but a broader question: what is the best way keep an eye on how arid and semi-arid western ranges are affected by any number of factors, including climate change? The monitoring tool chosen, known as Rapid Ecoregional Assessments, is deployed in various regions around the West, including the Colorado Plateau.
According to the minutes of a 2010 workshop discussing these analyses, Peter Lattin, a representative of Dynamac, the Oregon-based contractor chosen to create the framework for the studies of the Colorado Plateau and then conduct them, explained to a group including Bureau of Land Management officials and government scientists that he had added grazing to the list of potential “change agents” in the model his firm was designing.
But Karl Ford, a bureau representative in charge of these surveys, expressed “concerns that Dynamac had focused on grazing,” the minutes noted. Mr. Lattin replied that there was no intent to highlight grazing, just to include it, even though Interior had not mentioned it when soliciting bids for the study from contractors like Dynamac.
Later in the workshop, Mr. Lattin said: “Grazing is a change agent over which we have control. It will not be dealt with differently than any other change agents.”
Mr. Ford of the bureau said that information gathered in the land health assessments as part of the Clinton Administration reforms “are not in a formalized database” and that “within the agency and with a group of stakeholders there are litigation worries,” the minutes indicate. The stakeholders are not named in the minutes, but environmentalists assume that the livestock industry is among them.
A chorus of objections erupted among the scientists present, the minutes show. “We run the risk of not having a legitimate assessment if grazing is not considered,” said Carmen Bailey, a biologist with the Utah Department of Wildlife Resources. “It would be intellectually dishonest to ignore grazing,” said someone else not identified in the minutes.
Tom Edwards of the federal Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management’s sister agency within Interior, then said, “We will be laughed out of the room if we don’t use grazing,” according to the minutes. “If you have the other range of disturbances, you have to include grazing. We are evaluating all of it.”
In the end, it was decided at the workshop that the issue would “require further discussion” with the “Washington office,” although the minutes do not specify what entity that refers to, and “they will specify how it should be addressed.” In the end, the Interior Department’s decision was not to address it because the data was inadequate, according to a news release from P.E.E.R.based on its documents.
Yet a significant body of data was compiled by the Bureau of Land Management in 2008 on the effects of grazing. That same data was used in an unrelated scientific paper titled “Rangewide assessment of livestock grazing across the sagebrush biome,” published this year by the United States Geological Survey, another Interior agency.