Scientific Integrity – So Ordered by the Court

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Guest Column by Lisa LeBlanc ~ HfH Advisory Council Lead Research Specialist

It has become glaringly apparent, particularly to the interested public over the past year, that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), under the auspices of the Department of Interior (DOI), keeps and considers no one’s council but its own.

The Equine Advocacy possesses within it a scientific community, professionals with Letters of Degree, many of whom have authored volumes of citations and empirical data, rendered in articles and submitted in Public comment to rebut Environmental Assessments, data that illustrates the flaws or misinformation in the Bureau’s methods and published findings. With Director Abbey’s announcement earlier this year of employing the National Academy of Science to do a ‘study’ on the Wild Horse and Burro issue, those of us without a background in science shake our heads in disbelief – a costly and lengthy study, to be conducted concurrently as Wild Equine herds continue to be decimated, while the scientists among us are routinely ignored.

Perhaps if Advocate scientists were to receive monetary compensation from the Federal Government, their findings would have credibility. Not merit as it applies to Wild Horses and Burros, but at least some acknowledgment of  the effort.

And it’s become an unfortunate pattern that the interested Public has had to choose legal action as it’s only method of redress. Private monies that could be better spent on charitable efforts – rescues, sanctuaries or, equally important, the futures of some Advocates – are instead being funneled into the courts to construct an obstacle course in front of the Wild Horse & Burro branch of a rogue agency.

But there are victories on some fronts. While they may not receive the national attention they deserve, they provide hope for those of us on the sidelines. One such victory, ‘Western Watersheds Project versus Kraayenbrink’ (9th Cir. Sep. 1, 2010, No. 08-35360__F3d.__.), the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decided against the BLM, citing the Bureau violated NEPA and the Endangered Species Act in adopting 2006 amendments to grazing regulations. The amendments -18 proposed by the Secretary of the Interior at that time – would have “decreased public involvement in public lands management, put new limitations on the BLM’s enforcement powers, and increased ranchers’ ownership rights to improvements and water on public lands”.

The petitioner, Western Watersheds Project (WWP) “brought suit alleging violation of NEPA, ESA, and the Federal Land Management Policy Act (“FLPMA”).” The appeals court concluded that “BLM failed to take a “hard look” at the environmental consequences and combined effects of the proposed regulatory amendments”; the court explained that a final Environmental Impact Statement (“EIS”), a strict NEPA requirement, must offer a “reasoned explanation and analysis” (emphasis added) for an agency’s change of policy” and that  “proposing the change(s) must examine the “relevant data and articulate a satisfactory explanation for it’s action” including a rational connection between facts found and the choice made.”

“For the same reasons that the court found BLM had violated NEPA, it held that BLM violated ESA. The court reasoned that because BLM failed to consider “relevant expert analysis and concerns” or articulate a rational connection between the facts found and the choice made, its actions were arbitrary and capricious in violation of the agency’s obligations under ESA.”

This decision reminds agencies of the following two principles:

1) agencies must consider relevant expert analysis and concerns and provide adequate responses if the agency decides to reject the expert’s conclusion;

2) when the agency is changing an existing policy or rule, the agency must articulate a rational connection between the facts found and the choice to adopt the amendments.” (emphasis added)

(This article, authored by Emilio Camacho and Cori Badgley, can be accessed here):

http://blog.aklandlaw.com/2010/10/articles/endangered-species-act/grazing-cattle-and-the-blms-violation-of-nepa-and-esa/index.html

With these findings, an assumption can be made – that this Court’s decision does not simply apply to the Bureau and it’s grazing responsibilities in this case, but to each and every theoretical scientific presentation made by the Bureau: Consider relevant expert analysis, and if not, explain why.

There are several among the brain trust within Wild Equine Advocacy and even their considered opinions and expertise have yet to affect the course of an EA. To name a few: Submissions made to field offices during Public Comment periods by Craig Downer, distinguished Wildlife Ecologist, lecturer and published author; Jesica Johnston, Environmental Scientist, who spent a year in on-the-ground research to author a study of the Twin Peaks HMA before the disastrous, destructive and near extinction-level roundup in August, 2010; Christine DeCarlo, PhD, with a background in equine reproductive immunology and wildlife conservation and expressed concerns about the long-term physical and behavioral effects of the PZP program.

A program which may not even be necessary, given the huge margin for error in population growth estimates within HMA’s. The recent EA for the Antelope Complex in Nevada states that the post-gather, 2004 population for both the Antelope and Antelope Valley HMAs (without incorporating the populations of Goshute and Spruce/Pequop, the two other HMAs in the ‘Complex’) was a combined 300 Wild Horses. There are now, within those two areas according to the EA, 1181 animals. With the application of pencil, paper and a standard-issue calculator, that population increase comes to approximately 295%, or 49.16% per year, in just 6 years – roundups, mortality and PZP inoculations notwithstanding – a virtual biological impossibility.

Secretary Salazar, Director Abbey, members of Appropriation committees and legislators who make the decisions on how Taxpayer money is allocated and spent need to recognize – there are errors in the information they receive, whether by design, habit or a desire to curry good standing with the upper echelon. If a layperson, with no background in hard science and rudimentary math skills can find these errors, what else has been missed or misrepresented?

A passage (possibly) from the Bible, from the much-beloved and now departed Uncle George:

” If one man calls thee an ass, pay him no mind. If two men call thee an ass, get thee a saddle.”

13 comments on “Scientific Integrity – So Ordered by the Court

  1. Still praying for these amazing and beautiful horses and burros. It is so sad that our government can just kill whenever and whatever they want to. I hate to see my hard earned tax dollars I have to pay, spent on such cruelty. Praying for a ruling that will STOP this barbaric action and practice and end all BLM round ups:-(
    Sending prayers for our American heritage and icons. God Bless Our Wild Horses

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  2. May TODAY be the day that provides protection and freedom for the wild horses and burro’s and gives much needed attention to the hierarchy of creatures on this earth beyond the benefits of a the few misguided but empowered that thwart previous decisions and public opinion; not to mention lack of understanding that there is a simple right and wrong and respect for the rhythm of life.

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  3. I love the Bible passage. Right on target. Very well written piece. Thank-you.

    I hope the judge is putting together a powerful decision.

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  4. Ms. LeBlanc/HfH Advisory…thank you for the Ninth Circuit-WWP decision. It is very powerful and precedant setting.

    We here and our warriors on the ranges have known the “capricious and arbitrary” nature of the DOI, USDA and state wildlife killers for years. Capricious and arbitrary are relatively milk toast vocabulary for insane, reckless, murderous, unethical and immoral gov’t behavior in my book.

    Thanks again, Lisa.

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    • “Ms. LeBlanc/HfH Advisory…thank you for the Ninth Circuit-WWP decision. It is very powerful and precedant setting.”

      Yes, thank you. I only hope the BLM does not ignore it as it has so many other opinions!

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  5. Lisa, thank you for your well written and researched article! I plan to send a copy to my senators. The mainstream press needs to be less bias in what they will or won’t report, and just report period. Thanks to excellent research by folks like you, the truth does eventually see daylight.

    I loved late Uncle George’s words!!! Boy, how well they describe so many today.

    RT and company – prayers and good thoughts still coming your way!!! I still have that good feeling…:-)

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  6. I so agree! How much data do they need before the Wild Ones are gone. All gone. Do these people with all their knowledge & degrees do not count for anything? Why aren’t they listening to us? Our words are falling on deaf ears. The BLM is a rouge government entity that needs to be given a shot in the arm of reality……….WE THE PEOPLE SEE YOU & WILL NOT LET THIS CONTINUE!

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  7. So, exactly “How” are they going to do a study, if there are NO wild horses left in the wild TO study!!?? It makes absolutely no sense! Unless, of course, that was their evil, coniving plan all along, no horses, no possibly costly study!! If there are no more wild horses to study, what then? At the rate of capture & removal (including deaths!), the horses will be long gone before any “study” even gets under way!!

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    • Then we need a Public Foundation to Adopt All of Our wild horses and take them from BLM control and create a program that will work, lands and all. Stop the gender processing and get out there and say we have an alternative! The one they have wanted all along. WE take the wild ones and we manage them. Adopt our wild horses so they truly become the peoples’ herds! mar

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      • Mar, I’m behind you all the way!! The ONLY way to save OUR wild ones is to take control of them ourselves, or, demand that our government gives them back to their “rightful owners”, &, the land they stole as well, back to our true native Americans!! In any case, we need to take the horses away from the BLM/government, &, “manage” them ourselves, make them truly belong to ALL Americans!! No offense to our Bald Eagles, but, I think America’s new symbol should be the Mustang, or, maybe they could share the spotlight!!

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  8. GREAT article Lisa!
    The persons that you mention are to be thanked for their efforts to follow through with what they know is right … and did you know that they do this by spending their own time and money to do it? And while we are on the subject … there are many, many, many other people who are dedicated and have done the same – thank you ALL. And… have you seen that the BLM has a new budget of $1.1 BILLION dollars for this upcoming year! This will cause the rest of us (with smaller budgets LOL) to work even harder.

    I ask that some of you please email the Eagle Lake office and ask for their final census report and photographs as is required by law. I (and others) have done this and get absolutely NO RESPONSE. Is that because they didn’t do the fly-over direct count as they said they did or because they don’t want us to see that their numbers are just “made up” and have no justification or are they just ignoring us because they hope we will go away? Aren’t they responsible to the us … the public? Where is transparency? I want to see their reports and their photos – don’t you? You and I pay for these reports and photographs to be done and we have a right to see them.
    Please contact and request them [and let me know if you get a response or not] (and ask for #1 a receipt and #2 a response):
    Persons to contact:
    Jeff Fontana jfontana@blm.gov Office (530) 252-5332 cell (530) 260-0189
    Erin Curtis ecurtis@blm.gov Office (916) 978-4622 cell (916) 350-0518
    Jan Bedrosian jbedros@blm.gov Office (916) 978-4616 Cell (916) 947-7730
    Debbie Collins [National Wild Horse and Burro Team] wildhorse@blm.gov Office 866-468-7826
    (my letter follows – use it or write your own)
    October 15, 2010
    Mr. Jeff Fontana
    Public Affair Specialist
    DOI, BLM Eagle Lake
    Joseph_Fontana@blm.gov
    Re: Twin Peaks Census Survey
    Dear Mr. Fontana:
    Please provide to me the full report and photographs of the wild horse/burro post gather census survey conducted on the Twin Peaks range that was done by the BLM within the past few weeks. Thank you in advance for your cooperation.
    Sincerely,

    Cc: Ms. Debbie Collins
    DOI, BLM Wild Horse and Burro Team
    wildhorse@blm.gov

    (Here is some background information so you will know what is going on):
    In February of this year, BLM instructed its field offices to switch from the “Direct Count” method of census to two other population survey methods. Twin Peaks [Eagle Lake] did not do this. Please note that the BLM has completed their Results of Roundup and I am sure you will want to compare their findings with the recent study and report done by Craig Downer. It is obvious to me for many reasons that BLM’s census is inaccurate and that our wild ones that are left on their range are in serious trouble – for their limited population and for their genetic viability.
    BLM report:
    “The BLM has completed a post-roundup count of wild horses and burros in the Twin Peaks Herd Management Area (HMA), finding that 793 wild horses and 160 wild burros remain on the range. BLM’s goal was to leave a healthy herd of at least 450 wild horses and 72 wild burros to reach the Appropriate Management Level (AML) set by the Eagle Lake Resource Management Plan in 2008 to ensure healthy rangelands. Prior to the gather, animal populations were about five times the number of wild horses and two times the number of burros.”
    Now as further information, you will want to learn what BLM says about their own inaccurate census reports and below is a link to their memo. I paraphrase some of it here:
    Per BLM: “The accuracy and precision of the current direct count inventory method have proven to be unreliable, especially in large areas…” [My comment: I couldn’t agree with you more!]
    Per BLM: Policy: Two population survey methods, simultaneous double-count with sightability bias correction and mark-resight using photographs, will progressively be implemented and utilized by field offices as training for field specialists, technical support, and funding are available to facilitate implementation. The goal of the Wild Horse and Burro Program (WH&B) is to produce a reliable estimate of each wild horse or burro population …”
    Per BLM: “Most BLM offices currently base their WH&B population estimates on direct counts from either a helicopter or a fixed-wing airplane. However, research reviewed by the National Research Council (1982) indicated that this practice can undercount the actual number of wild horses by 7-60% depending on topography, vegetation, observer experience, weather, type of aircraft, etc.” [My comment: BLM agrees that the direct count is inaccurate. It says so right there in black and white and if it is agreed that this method is inaccurate then it can just as well cause OVERCOUNT as well as undercount!]
    Per BLM: “Timeframe: This Instruction Memorandum is effective upon issuance.” [My comment: BLM implemented two new count methods long before the Twin Peaks post roundup survey was done – so Twin Peaks must justify why they did not use the prescribed methods and continued to use the direct method which is no longer prescribed by BLM and is agreed as unreliable].
    In addition, the BLM memo regulations say that IF the above two methods can’t be used for some reason, and then they must do a lot of other rules while using the direct count method. One of the rules says: “TAKE A CAMERA – PHOTOGRAPH ALL GROUPS OF TWENTY OR MORE ANIMALS…” [My comment: so if they do have justification of continuing the old direct count and IF they did “count” 793 horses and 160 burros then they certainly saw some groups of twenty or more and were required to photograph them … per BLM regulations…. so I want to see these photographs. Don’t you?]
    Here is another BLM requirement: “…scientifically supportable and defensible population estimates of wild horse and burro populations.” [My comment: I want to see this too – I want to see their reports that are “scientifically supportable and defensible.”]
    Again, I quote BLM: “The accuracy and precision of the current direct count inventory method have proven to be unreliable, especially in large areas…”
    http://www.blm.gov/wo/st/en/info/regulations/Instruction_Memos_and_Bulletins/national_instruction/2010/IM_2010-057.html

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  9. This exchange saddens me, I had hoped as a native who has grown up and spent his 58 years on that ranch and hundreds more ( I own a business and have kept the water wells and pumps working there for over 30 years) to be able to offer real insight from ground level and have a civil discussion.

    I am not a rancher but hold them in the highest of regards, honest hard working people who grew up around, care for, use as tools, and value horses, and cows, and deer, and elk, antelope as a way of life.

    Robin whos letter I linked to above is the wife of a third generation rancher offering an honest compassionate view of the issues involved and ways forward to a solution. Her point of compromise to attain a 80/20 agreement among the factions makes perfect sense…..

    Zealots have no standing in this debate, they will be relegated to the 20% whos attitude condemns them to the ignored fringe.

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