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):
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.”