Thursday, July 21, 2005

More Bad Science: Grazing Regulations

Two days ago, I highlighted recent reports released by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) and the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). These reports detailed the Bush administration's manipulation of research related to offshore fisheries. This morning, I received more bad news.

Biologists from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) warned the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) that new livestock grazing regulations are detrimental to wildlife populations and water systems.(1) These warnings first landed on the desks of BLM officials last year, when the BLM requested professional critiques of the proposed regulations.

Concerned about the impact of these new regulations on wildlife, the USFWS issued a 15-page formal report, stating that the new rules could "have profound impacts on wildlife resources." When the document was completed, the three western regional USFWS directors requested an audience with the BLM. None was granted. The comments were submitted anyway, but the USFWS received no reply.

According to the BLM, the comments were ignored because they were in draft form and therefore "did not represent the agency's official position." Tom Gorey, spokeman for the BLM, asks, "Where is the official Fish and Wildlife position? We've never seen it."

Perhaps the BLM filed it in the waste basket? The USFWS claims they followed federal submission protocol; if so, there is no good reason that the document should have been ignored. Steve Williams, ex-director of the USFWS, stated, "The fact that the process didn't follow through, and the comments of the service and other agencies weren't able to be incorporated, that does bother me. We take the time to put the comments together."

The EPA focused on potential water contamination, suggesting that the new regulations would make it much more difficult to act should contamination occur. It may come as a surprise, but apparently the scientists at the BLM agreed with both the EPA and the USFWS. Unfortunately, their written assessments were edited by folks in Washington. The changes were not subtle.
"The original environmental analysis warned that the new rules would have a 'significant adverse impact' on wildlife, but the scientists' language was altered to read that the grazing regulations were 'beneficial to wildlife.'"
From adverse to beneficial? Wow. The White House sure waves its magic wand with impunity. Even though one of the BLM's biologists calls the "final product a 'whitewash,'" the BLM seems unfazed.
"Bureau officials said editing and review were standard. Further, they said the new grazing rules changed existing policy relatively slightly and said the regulations more fairly balanced the needs of plants, wildlife, water and other resources with the rights of ranchers to use public land."
Sounds great, doesn't it? If only it were true. For more on the new plan, you can read the BLM factsheet.

(1) A distressing primer for those readers unfamiliar with the impact of grazing regulations (and most of us on the eastern seaboard are): Over 50% of all United States land (excepting Alaska) is used for agriculture and cattle grazing. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), 56% of all agricultural lands are used to produce beef. In other words, over half of all agricultural land in this country is grazing land. As such, the impact of cattle grazing is staggering; the regulations associated with the practice are of vital importance to ecosystem maintenance. (Giving up meat - particularly beef - would not only free many millions of acres for the Conservation Reserve Program, but also allow the 90% of crops currently grown to feed animals destined for slaughter to be instead consumed by humans, significantly reducing world hunger.)

Photo credit: Box "R" Ranch

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