Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Bush World: Where science is fungible

Fresh on the heels of news storiesthat Bush administration officials tampered with government climate reports, this story in the Los Angeles Times just left me shaking my head:
Land Study on Grazing Denounced
Two retired specialists say Interior excised their warnings on the effects on wildlife and water

It describes how Bush administration officials completely reversed the scientific findings of veteran experts en route to turning public lands into open range for ranchers:
The Bush administration altered critical portions of a scientific analysis of the environmental impact of cattle grazing on public lands before announcing Thursday that it would relax regulations limiting grazing on those lands, according to scientists involved in the study.

A government biologist and a hydrologist, who both retired this year from the Bureau of Land Management, said their conclusions that the proposed new rules might adversely affect water quality and wildlife, including endangered species, were excised and replaced with language justifying less stringent regulations favored by cattle ranchers.

... The original draft of the environmental analysis warned that the new rules would have a "significant adverse impact" on wildlife, but that phrase was removed. The bureau now concludes that the grazing regulations are "beneficial to animals."

Eliminated from the final draft was another conclusion that read: "The Proposed Action will have a slow, long-term adverse impact on wildlife and biological diversity in general."

Also removed was language saying how a number of the rule changes could adversely affect endangered species.

"This is a whitewash. They took all of our science and reversed it 180 degrees," said Erick Campbell, a former BLM state biologist in Nevada and a 30-year bureau employee who retired this year. He was the author of sections of the report pertaining to the effect on wildlife and threatened and endangered species.

"They rewrote everything," Campbell said in an interview this week. "It's a crime."

You've just gotta love what those new regulations will do, too:
The new rules, published Friday by the BLM, a division of the Department of Interior, ensures ranchers expanded access to public land and requires federal land managers to conduct protracted studies before taking action to limit that access.

The rules reverse a long-standing agency policy that gave BLM experts the authority to quickly determine whether livestock grazing was inflicting damage.

The regulations also eliminate the agency's obligation to seek public input on some grazing decisions. Public comment will be allowed but not required.

OK, a quick tally: negating scientific review, forcing public lands to accommodate private industry, reducing the ability of land managers to respond to land degradation, and then cutting out public participation. Could this possibly be any worse for the public?

Well, yes, because the rules reverse some real gains made in recent years in bringing public land use -- including that by ranchers -- to sustainable levels:
In recent years, concerns about the condition of much Western grazing land has been heightened by drought, which has denuded pastures in the most arid areas, causing bureau managers to close some pastures and prompting ranchers to sell their herds.

The new rules mark a departure from grazing regulations adopted in 1995 under President Clinton and Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt. Those regulations reflected the view of range scientists that a legacy of overgrazing in the West had degraded scarce water resources, damaged native plant communities and imperiled wildlife.

Babbitt ordered the bureau to establish standards that spelled out when public lands were open for grazing, and for the first time required range specialists to assess each pasture to ensure it held enough vegetation to support wildlife and livestock. It was the first time in about 50 years that the federal government had tried sweeping overhauls of how Western ranchers operated on public lands.

It would be like spitting into the wind, I suppose, to ask these ranchers where they think their grazing lands are going to come from when they've all been destroyed. But hey, that's someone else's long-term problem, isn't it?

It's certainly not the Bush administration's.

I come from ranching country and have written more range-management stories than I care to recall (it's not what you'd call glamor reporting). I thought I'd seen it all during the James Watt/Anne Gorsuch years, but the Bush gang really take the In Your Face Audacity prize. They're rewriting the management of public lands so that they are now no longer really belong to the public.

Just as disturbing is the consistency in the outright of abuse of scientific review for predetermined ends. At some point, you'd think people would figure out that our government is now in the hands of religious ideologues and corporate profiteers who see science as the enemy. As a nation whose superiority is built on technology that is built on science, that should trouble even conservatives.

[Via Thoughts From Kansas, which has a nice roundup of other atrocities on the endangered-species front as well.]

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