The U.S. Bureau of Land Management is spending $40 million to map ecological trends including disturbances causing changes across the West.
Only it has told its scientists they can’t look at grazing, the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility reports. The group filed a complaint with the agency today.
The Rapid Ecoregional Assessments are looking at the impacts of fire and invasive species, urban sprawl, climate change and even rock collecting in each of the six main regions of the sagebrush West. But BLM managers told scientists to exclude grazing at a August 2010 workshop, because of “anxiety from stakeholders,” fear of litigation and, lack of available data on grazing impacts.
“We will be laughed out of the room if we don’t use grazing,” Tom Edwards, a Utah State University and USGS ecologist was quoted in the minutes of the workshop. “If you have the other range of disturbances, you have to include grazing.”
Interior Press Secretary Adam Fetcher responded to calls to the BLM. Earlier this year, the Interior Department, parent agency for BLM, adopted its first scientific integrity policies prohibiting political interference with, or manipulation of, scientific work.
"This allegation will be reviewed under the standard procedures contained in (Department of Interior's)scientific integrity policy," Fetcher said Wednesday.
The BLM eventually removed livestock grazing from all ecoregional assessments, citing insufficient data, PEER said. Now the assessments consider grazing impacts only when combined with other native and introduced grazing animals.
“This is one of the screwiest things I have ever heard of,” said PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch.
But Edwards, who is in charge of reviewing the Northern Plains ecoregional assessment, said he considered measuring grazing impacts of all species as one of seven change agents was valid scientifically. BLM scientists told them they simply had not gathered the data in 76 years of managing grazing on public land.
"We were surprised this data wasn’t available," Edwards said in a telephone interview.
He said overall the assessments are the best big picture look at the ecosystems since the early 1990s.
BLM has far more data on grazing than it does on other change agents, such as climate change or urban sprawl, that it chose to follow, Ruch said.
“Grazing is one of the few ‘change agents’ within the agency’s mandate to manage, suggesting that BLM only wants analysis on what it cannot control.”