TEMPORARY INTERIOR DEPARTMENT DIRECTORS ILLEGAL

Brian Steed, Bureau of Land Management’s Acting Director

“Federal agencies are not supposed to be run like a temp service.” – PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch

Source: Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER)

For Immediate Release: Feb 12, 2018
Contact: Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337

TEMPORARY INTERIOR DEPARTMENT DIRECTORS ILLEGAL

All Decisions by Acting Park Service, BLM, and Fish & Wildlife Heads Legally Void


Washington, DC — President Trump’s record tardiness in nominating agency leaders may undo months of work inside the Department of Interior, according to a complaint filed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).  The way the Trump administration has filled agency leadership slots with temporary or acting directors violates a law enacted to prevent a president from circumventing the U.S. Senate’s constitutional advice and consent power.

The PEER complaint filed with Interior’s Office of Inspector General charges that the acting directors of the National Park Service (NPS), Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) are in blatant violation of the Federal Vacancies Reform Act.  Under that act, any action taken by a noncompliant official “shall have no force or effect” nor may it be later “ratified.”

“The law prevents a president from installing acting directors for long periods and completely bypassing Senate confirmation,” argued PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that President Trump has not nominated or even announced an intention to nominate, persons to fil the NPS, BLM, or FWS vacancies.  “Federal agencies are not supposed to be run like a temp service.”

The complaint recounts Vacancies Reform Act violations invalidating the appointments of –

  • NPS Acting Director P. Daniel Smith, who did not serve in a senior position for 90 days during the prior year, as the Act requires. Nor did Trump appoint him, another requirement of the act;
  • BLM Acting Director Brian Steed, who also did not serve in a senior position for 90 days and Interior Secretary Zinke, not Trump, appointed him.
  • FWS Acting Director Greg Sheehan, who not only suffers from these same deficiencies but also now exceeds the 210-day limit the act imposes.

Read the rest of this press release HERE.

 

 

 

Washington State University silences researcher to placate ranchers and politicians

SOURCE:  SEATTLE TIMES

A motion-triggered wildlife camera at the den site of the Profanity Peak pack captures pack members on camera last June 30. Seven pack members were killed by Department of Fish and Wildlife after the wolves killed cattle grazing on public land at the Colville National Forest. (WSU wolf livestock research program)

A WAR OVER WOLVES

Outspoken researcher says his university and lawmakers silenced and punished him

By Lynda V. Mapes, Seattle Times environment reporter

By a slow slide of river deep in Washington’s wolf country, Robert Wielgus laughs at the tattoo on his arm of Four Claws, the grizzly that almost killed him.

“I would rather face charging grizzly bears trying to kill me than politicians and university administrators, because it is over quickly,” said Wielgus, director of the Large Carnivore Conservation Lab at Washington State University.

A Harley-riding, self-described adrenaline junkie at home in black motorcycle leathers with a Stetson and a .357 in the pickup, Wielgus, 60, is no tweed-jacket academic. For decades he has traveled North America wrangling bears, cougars and wolves to collar and study their behavior, including collaborations with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).

Wielgus now finds himself crosswise with ranchers, lawmakers and WSU administrators — and their lobbyists. He’s lost grant funding for his summer research, has been forbidden from talking to media in his professional role and has been reviewed — and cleared — for scientific misconduct.

To understand why involves a look at state policy concerning a menagerie of animals: cougars, sheep, cattle and wolves. And one more animal: homo sapiens.

In Washington, it turns out, wolves and livestock are getting along better than the people who manage and study them.

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), a national nonprofit specializing in government scientist whistleblower protection, in April filed a 12-page complaint against WSU officials, alleging the university punished and silenced Wielgus to placate ranchers and state legislators who objected to his research. WSU officials declined to comment for this story, citing possible litigation.

Read the rest of this story HERE.

ANIMAL CRUELTY CASE VS. U.S. FOREST SERVICE SIDELINED

Source:  PEER (Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility)

Map of Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests

Two Horses and a Mule Died of Dehydration in Arizona’s Apache-Sitgreaves Forest

Washington, DC — An attempt to criminally prosecute U.S. Forest Service employees for acts of cruelty to animals resulting in the death of two horses and a mule has been dropped, according to court records posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).  The dismissals followed an assertion of federal sovereign immunity in order to block prosecution in state court.

More than most federal agencies, the U.S. Forest Service uses horses and mules in its daily operations. Consequently, care and maintenance of equine livestock is an important duty on many national forests.

But there was a major breakdown of those responsibilities on the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona.  In May of 2016, two horses (named Snip and Diesel) and a mule (named Little Bit) were moved out of the forest’s corral to a place aptly called Rattlesnake Pasture, which had not been occupied by horses for at least a decade because it had no reliable water source.

The animals were left unattended for four weeks without water during the hottest time of the year, with temperatures in the area ranging from 105 to 112°F. In late June, someone finally checked and found all three animals dead from dehydration.

An internal Forest Service investigation produced a final “report” that was only one page long yet was a model of obfuscation. It concluded that:

“Contributing to this unfortunate outcome was a compilation of past practices, unknown policies, poor communication, failure of leadership, local fire conditions and accretion of duties to an inexperienced employee.”

In short, the Forest Service held no one to account. Greenlee County took a different view and in April 2017 filed nine misdemeanor animal cruelty counts stemming from the animals’ deaths against two Forest Service employees, including the district ranger (who has since retired) responsible for livestock care.

Read the rest of this article HERE.

BLM Agrees to Beef Up Livestock Range Condition Reports

WWP_Little_Lost_River_Valley_GRSG_habitat_ID-2

SOURCE:  PEER.org

Data Quantifying and Qualifying Grazing Effects on Land Health Belatedly Restored

Washington, DC — The U.S. Bureau of Land Management has agreed to restore key data to reports measuring how well vast federal rangelands are protected from damaging overgrazing in response to an administrative complaint filed by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The restored data reflects whether overgrazing or other factors are degrading the condition of 150 million acres of federal rangelands across a 13-state area covering most of the West.

The PEER complaint was filed in December 2014 under the Data Quality Act, which requires federal reports – especially those that are statistical in nature – to be complete, unbiased and of the highest accuracy and utility. The complaint targeted BLM’s 2013 Rangeland Inventory, Monitoring, and Evaluation (RIME) report, released a month prior, which is supposed to detail which lands are failing to meet range health standards for water, vegetation, soils and the ability to support wildlife. That 2013 report, and subsequent reports, omitted key data displayed in previous reports which showed –

  • The number and land area of grazing allotments meeting and failing rangeland health standards;
  • The reasons for violations of land health standards, such as whether it was due to overgrazing or from other causes; and
  • Whether land conditions are improving or declining or whether BLM is taking any management steps to restore degraded rangeland.

“Without this data, it is difficult for Congress and the public to measure the success or failure of BLM’s rangeland management,” said PEER Advocacy Director Kirsten Stade, who had labelled the incomplete report as “RIME without reason.” “We found it hard to believe that something as slow-moving as grazing livestock could not be adequately monitored.”

BLM initially rejected the PEER complaint but granted its appeal in a letter dated February 12, 2016. In subsequent communications, BLM indicated that it will correct not only the 2013 RIME report but the 2014 and 2015 editions, as well. The BLM had blamed a failed computerized mapping system as the reason it had stopped displaying import landscape health data.

BLM claims that it will develop new data reporting and mapping standards later this year, but has rebuffed suggestions that the agency put these changes out for peer review. Moreover, the agency has yet to provide much insight into what format this reporting system will take. BLM did not respond to an offer for free use of the Grazing Data Interactive Map developed by PEER, which web-displays data from BLM’s Land Health Status record system overlaid with high-resolution satellite imagery, permitting users to actually eyeball the land health conditions.

“PEER is tracking the disturbing trend of worsening range conditions across the 20,000 BLM grazing allotments,” added Stade, noting that much of the missing data covers the period when drought conditions across much of the Sagebrush West worsened. “We are concerned that BLM is poised to repeat the same mistakes by developing a new monitoring system behind closed doors that obscures rather than reveals the real conditions on public rangelands. Why should data about public lands grazing be kept secret?”
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Read BLM letter granting PEER appeal

See the PEER Data Quality Act complaint

Visit the PEER Grazing & Mapping website

Look at PEER’s successful appeal

View BLM emails explaining further relief

Shaving Livestock Grazing’s Carbon Hoofprint

Giant BLM Bovine Mowing Machine ~ photo by Terry Fitch

Giant BLM Bovine Mowing Machine ~ photo by Terry Fitch

Source:  Yubanet.com

Complaints Target BLM Neutral Stance on Livestock Grazing Climate Impacts

By: Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER)

Washington, DC April 11, 2016 – Even as President Obama touts steps to address climate change, his U.S. Bureau of Land Management appears not to have gotten the message, according to a pair of complaints filed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Despite ample evidence to the contrary, BLM continues to insist that commercial livestock grazing has no impact on climate change or its effects.

This climate change blind spot is no small matter as BLM oversees 21,000 grazing allotments covering 155 million acres of federal rangelands spread across 11 Western states. In complaints filed today with both the White House and Interior Department, PEER documents how BLM steadfastly refuses to even consider, let alone mitigate, climate impacts from its vast grazing program.

“Improbably, Obama’s BLM is a climate denier when it comes to cattle,” remarked PEER Advocacy Director Kirsten Stade who filed today’s complaints. “Most BLM grazing environmental assessments make no mention of climate change whatsoever, while the remainder say that impacts are unknowable and therefore will not be analyzed.”

The PEER complaints cite recent federal orders and policies directing agencies to respond to climate change in their official planning. Yet BLM never even acknowledges grazing’s climate impacts, such as –

– Grazing dramatically reduces soil sequestration of carbon, releasing an estimated 11 million additional tons of carbon annually;
– The livestock sector generates more than one third of all human-induced methane – a gas with global warming potential 25 times that of carbon dioxide; and
– Public lands grazing is the most significant contributor to change in landscape conditions across a vast area of the American West, worsening adverse climate impacts of spreading desertification, degrading vital riparian areas and facilitating introduction of invasive species.

These adverse effects are magnified if grazing is not well managed, and a large portion of allotments fails to meet BLM’s own range health standards. In the last decade as more land has been assessed, estimates of damaged lands have doubled where BLM conducts major livestock grazing.

“For an agency with the words ‘land management’ in its title, the BLM does little to effectively manage this program or prevent overgrazing,” added Stade. “These damaged landscapes create a feedback loop that further aggravates other negative impacts of climate change.”

In its filings, PEER asks the White House Council on Environmental Quality to ensure that all BLM eco-planning include assessments of grazing climate impacts, as required under the National Environmental Policy Act. The group also urges Interior Secretary Sally Jewell to make BLM begin complying with directives that it mitigate climate effects and adopt policies to promote climate-resilient lands in its grazing program.

Kirsten Stade of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) on Wild Horse & Burro Radio (Wed., 2/24/16)

painy

Wild_Horse_Burro_Radio_Logo

Join us on Wild Horse Wednesdays®, Feb. 24, 2016

3:00 pm PST … 4:00 pm MST … 5:00 pm CST … 6:00 pm EST

Listen to the archived show (HERE!)

You can also listen to the show on your phone by calling (917) 388-4520.

You can call in with questions during the 2nd half hour, by dialing (917) 388-4520, then pressing 1.

This is a 1 hour show.  It will be archived so you can listen to it anytime.

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Our guest is Kirsten Stade, Advocacy Director for Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).

PEER is known to wild horse & burro advocates for the many reports they have published about the BLM’s skewed data minimizing the effects of livestock grazing on public lands.  PEER also published the famous PEER WHITE PAPER titled “Horses to Slaughter: Anatomy of a Coverup within the Wild Horse & Burro Program of the Bureau of Land Management.”

PEER works to strengthen and enforce scientific integrity rules and data quality laws.  PEER, along with the Center for Food Safety, filed a lawsuit to stop the use of neonicotinoid insecticides (neonics) linked to the destruction of bee colonies.  They also filed a lawsuit to stop the planting of genetically engineered crops on wildlife refuges in the Midwest.  PEER is now focusing on pharmaceutical chemicals polluting our waters.  PEER also protects environmental and public health whistleblowers.

For nearly 20 years, Kirsten Stade has worked on public lands ecology and conservation, and has published research with WildEarth Guardians on the impacts of livestock grazing on fire ecology and ecosystem health in the American west.  She has a Master’s degree in Conservation Biology from Columbia University and a Bachelor’s in Earth Systems from Stanford University.

This show is hosted by Debbie Coffey, V.P. and Dir. of Wild Horse Affairs for Wild Horse Freedom Federation.

To contact us: ppj1@hush.com, or call 320-281-0585

http://www.blogtalkradio.com/marti-oakley/2016/02/24/ts-radio-wild-horse-burro-radio-guest-kirsten-stade-advocacy-director-peer

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BATTLE MOUNTAIN GRAZING SETTLEMENT SOWS SEEDS OF DISCORD

Forward by R.T. Fitch ~ Pres/Co-founder of Wild Horse Freedom Federation

“For the past several days I have been in a tizzy over the glamorization of the abusive and destructive horse racing ‘industry’ and last night several advocates reined me in and headed me back towards to wild horses and burros.  Sorry, but when it comes to our equines I see no silos.

Crybaby, welfare, subsidized ranchers have been in the news, as of late, for suing the BLM for not, allegedly, upholding the letter of the law by stripping federally protected wild horses from their rightful public range.  It’s all about entitlement and greed and what do the likes of these ‘ranchers’ do when things don’t go their way…they break the very laws that they have pledged to uphold.

The two couples highlighted below are actually quoted in the posted TV interview, below, as stating that YOUR public land is their ‘Private Property, bought and paid for’.  They pay pennies on the dollar for the right to graze their private cattle on your public land and it is considered, by them, to be THEIR land.  And when they break the law and graze their welfare cattle on the land in question the BLM caves to them, comes crying to them on all fours and begs them not to sue them any further.  I am both disgusted and flabbergasted.  Where is that BLM that I witnessed in person back at the Twin Peaks stampede in 2011 where 20 armed BLM rangers and law enforcement circled myself and three women, yes…me and 3 women…who only wanted to watch the roundup on our public lands; where are they now?  Oh, I forgot, we were wild horse advocates and considered dangerous while welfare ranchers are in bed and in cahoots with the BLM and Department of Interior.  Forgive me, I lost my train of thought there for a moment.

Back to the point, this is documented proof of the collusion and divisiveness that is in control of your public lands and hence, the destruction of our native wild horses and burros continues.  I, for one, have had enough.” ~ R.T.


SOURCE:  PEER.org

BATTLE MOUNTAIN GRAZING SETTLEMENT SOWS SEEDS OF DISCORD

Rancher Rewarded for Defiant Trespass as BLM Avoids Enforcement at All Costs

Eddyanne and Dan Filippini stating that our Public Land, which is home to wild animals such as horses, is THEIR land now they have violated the law and continue to ravage it with their destructive lack of proper management.

Eddyanne and Dan Filippini stating that our Public Land, which is home to wild animals such as horses, is THEIR land now they have violated the law and continue to ravage it with their destructive lack of proper management.

Washington, D.C. — Illegal livestock grazing on drought-stricken northern Nevada rangeland has now received Bureau of Land Management (BLM) approval, according to a settlement the agency reached with the ranchers. Western Watersheds Project and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) criticized the deal as encouraging more rogue grazing, and they have asked Interior Secretary Sally Jewell to instead support closure decisions made by BLM district managers to protect public lands.

This week’s settlement agreement is the latest in the long-running dispute over drought closures in Battle Mountain, Nevada. The dry conditions prompted the BLM to close two grazing allotments (North Buffalo and Copper Canyon) in May 2013. Shortly thereafter, ranchers Dan and Eddyann Filippini appealed the closure decision, which was ultimately upheld by an Administrative Law Judge in the Department of Interior’s Office of Hearings and Appeals. Dissatisfied with the continued drought protective measures in place on these public lands, the ranchers escalated the situation last week by releasing livestock onto the North Buffalo allotment and publicly daring the BLM to act.

Rather than move to get the trespassing cows off, BLM acted quickly to reach a deal with the ranchers. In the settlement agreement dated June 5, 2015, the ranchers are allowed to leave their cattle on the disputed lands, but the Filippinis agree that they have committed a “willful” grazing trespass and will pay an enhanced grazing fee only for the period that their cattle were illegally turned out. The agreement also specifies that the ranchers will dismiss further litigation in the case.

The North Buffalo allotment is a 100,768 acre allotment which is a checkerboard mix of 55% public lands and 45% private lands and has no internal fencing to keep livestock off of public lands. The allotment also contains priority Greater Sage-grouse habitat as defined by the recently released Nevada and Northeastern California Greater Sage-Grouse Proposed Land Use Plan Amendment and Final Environmental Impact Statement.

“Just two weeks after the new Greater Sage-grouse land use plans were released, the BLM once again shows us how little commitment they have to protecting important land and wildlife habitat when pressured by industry,” said Ken Cole, Western Watersheds Project’s Idaho Director. “What good are the new plans if the agencies cave in to every whim of the ranchers?”

“These stretches of desert were closed because they are suffering from longstanding drought on top of decades of grazing abuse,” stated PEER Advocacy Director Kirsten Stade, pointing to satellite imagery showing clearly visible effects of overgrazing but noting that these lands at issue here have never undergone legally required official assessment of their ecological health. “The livestock industry enjoys heavily subsidized grazing privileges but acts as if it has an entitlement to the public’s lands.”

After last year’s Bundy debacle, local BLM managers in Nevada are under pressure from above to resolve any resource disputes regardless of the terms or the long-term effects on the health of the public lands. The groups today sent Interior Secretary Sally Jewell a letter asking her to support local BLM enforcement decisions and to develop an effective range enforcement strategy, rather than backing down like the agency did in the case of Cliven Bundy, or reaching new agreements with lawless ranchers, as they have now done at Battle Mountain.

In response to a request from U.S. Representative Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ), Ranking Member of the House Committee on Natural Resources, the Government Accountability Office is undertaking a review of the effectiveness of federal policies and practices “to detect and deter unauthorized livestock grazing on public range lands” in the words of a recent letter confirming the investigation.

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Video courtesy of Reason.TV
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View the settlement

Read letter calling for Secretary Jewell to start enforcing grazing limits

See satellite images of the North Buffalo allotment

See a map of the entire allotment showing Greater sage grouse habitat

Trace Battle Mountain conflict

See GAO agreement to review grazing enforcement

See Administrative Law Judge order upholding the drought closure

Look at prior violations by these ranchers

See the Greater Sage-Grouse Proposed Land Use Plan Amendment

Explore PEER database displaying conditions of Western range lands

Scientific Fraud Infests Fish & Wildlife Service Top Ranks

News on another Department of the Interior agency.

READ FULL ARTICLE AT PEER.ORG/NEWS

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Whistleblower Hearing Traces Corruption and Retaliation Back to Director’s Door

dan_smiling_may_31_2011

FWS Director Dan Ashe

Posted on Feb 25, 2015

Washington, DC —An explosive whistleblower hearing transcript paints a vivid picture of rampant scientific misconduct, callous reprisal and systemic mendacity within the upper echelons of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS), according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) which posted the full texts today. The transcript also illustrates how a highly-touted agency Scientific Integrity Policy has become a tool for just the opposite..

This whistleblower case is striking because it involves a high-level manager rather than a field biologist; Gary Mowad is a 28-year FWS veteran and former Deputy Director for law enforcement. For the past few years, Mowad had been the FWS Texas Administrator for the Ecological Services Division, handling a parade of thorny endangered species and natural resource issues arising out of the Lone Star State..

The hearing took place because Mowad challenged being placed on an open-ended “detail” causing him to leave Austin for Albuquerque for a position with no apparent duties. The reassignment followed his reporting a number of scientific integrity concerns, including what he termed a blatantly political decision by the FWS hierarchy to reverse the staff recommendation that the dune sagebrush lizard, with habitat in the heart of Texas oil country, be listed under the Endangered Species Act.

In an August 18, 2014 hearing before the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board, testimony indicated:.
•Widespread scientific fraud, such as using models to classify paved parking lots as endangered species habitat, is facilitated by top FWS officials to accommodate a network of politically connected consultants called the “Texas mafia;”
•Within hours after Mowad’s disclosure to the FWS Scientific Integrity Officer, it was relayed to top headquarters officials, and he was ordered to vacate his office. An arrangement to end Mowad’s exile was personally quashed by FWS Director Dan Ashe; and
•The Whistleblower Ombudsman for Interior’s Office of Inspector General testified that “Months of pointed discussions and stern warnings…have not resulted in any formal and permanent action” to discipline managers guilty of misconduct or protect whistleblowers from further retaliation.

Mowad’s case quickly settled after MSPB Judge Mary Ann Garvey summarized what she had heard by saying “it appears that the history of the Fish and Wildlife, and specifically …Regional Director Benjamin Tuggle, [Deputy Director Rowan] Gould, and Ashe is that whistleblowing retaliation is tolerated or even condoned. Apparently someone got promoted or something good happened to them after they retaliated.”.

“Political skewing of science in today’s Fish & Wildlife Service is just as rife and blatant as it was during the darkest days of the Bush years,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, whose organization represented other FWS scientists working in the Southwest Region under Tuggle. “The Service’s entrenched culture of corruption persists with the full knowledge and blessing of Director Dan Ashe.”.  READ MORE AT PEER.ORG/news

 

A new map shows rangeland health nationwide

SOURCE:  HIGH COUNTRY NEWS

Searchable BLM reports and satellite images for 20,000 grazing allotments.

by Tay Wiles

When the Bureau of Land Management ordered the removal of cattle from public rangeland this summer near Battle Mountain, Nevada, the state was in its third year of severe drought. Conditions were too dry to sustain the number of cattle that were grazing there, the BLM contended. Locals responded in part by announcing a “Cowboy Express” ride from Bodega Bay, California to Washington, DC to protest federal overreach and to demand that local District Manager Doug Furtado be ousted.

Disagreements like the one in Battle Mountain are hardly novel in Western politics. But this week, a new tool to understand livestock impact on public lands was thrown into the mix. Washington, DC-based non-profit Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) released an interactive map that collates over 45,000 BLM records that diagnose 20,000 allotments across the nation. The map is seven years in the making, the result of Freedom of Information Act requests PEER and Western Watersheds Project put to the BLM.

Damage to the land from livestock can be seen in satellite images.

According to the map, 29 percent of allotted land, or 16 percent of the number of allotments, has failed to meet BLM standards of rangeland health due to impacts of livestock. Those assessments are based on a specific set of criteria, including things like watershed conditions, water quality, soil health and habitat for at-risk species.

 

 

Shaded areas indicate where rangeland has failed to meet BLM health standards between 1997 and 2013.

In addition to looking at the macro-scale numbers of how much land has passed the BLM health test, the new map shows satellite images of each individual allotment—a way to “sky truth,” as PEER puts it, what the agency is reporting. So, if the BLM says a piece of land is doing just fine, or if the BLM claims the landscape is taking a beating, anyone can zoom in to look for themselves and get details like the number of cattle on how many acres. Soil and vegetation disturbances from mining, agriculture, livestock or off-road vehicles are visible in the satellite images. A group of allotments in eastern Montana, for instance, are categorized as healthy, but are also clearly being used to grow crops. And they’re sitting in prime habitat for Greater sage grouse—a species that U.S. Fish & Wildlife is currently considering listing as endangered. (There’s an optional map layer that allows you to overlay grouse habitat.) PEER Advocacy Director Kirsten Stade says examples like this raise the question of how an area dedicated to crops or livestock could be considered “meeting all standards,” when the majority of native vegetation has been supplanted.

 

 

In some cases, the map shows a whole bunch of unhealthy, red-tinted, allotments butting against green-tinted, healthy ones. That kind of scenario may be an indication that adjacent district offices are interpreting rangeland health differently and calling “healthy” what the manager next door may deem “unhealthy” or vice versa, even though they’re in the same ecosystem with similar needs. In the case of Argenta, where the cowboy express came from, the fact that the allotment in question (which itself appears to have an incomplete assessment and tinted grey) is surrounded by either red or un-assessed land “suggests that maybe Doug Furtado wasn’t so far off in his call that grazing needed to be reduced on this allotment,” Stade said.

The Argenta allotment is highlighted in blue. Red areas failed to meet BLM rangeland health standards because of livestock impacts. Yellow allotments failed for non-livestock reasons, and orange allotments failed for unknown reasons. Grey areas have either no or incomplete assessments, according to PEER’s data.

For its part, the BLM responded to an initial PEER report from 2012 with qualms about the non-profit’s methodology. In any given unhealthy allotment, there may be a number of acres that are actually healthy, despite the fact the parcel on the whole is deemed a failure. But the non-profit was grouping all acres as unhealthy, which the BLM said skewed the data to be worse than it actually was. The BLM website says that the agency is creating its own mapping system that will show rangeland health acre-by-acre, instead of by allotment.

The agency also says it has “taken action to correct grazing management on 86 percent of the 1,925 allotments where livestock grazing was determined to be the cause for not meeting land health standards.”

The PEER map includes blue-tinted areas that represent Greater sage grouse habitat, underneath the tens of thousands of tinted grazing allotments.

One reason PEER is publicizing the new data set is to push the BLM to be more consistent in its rangeland health evaluations. The agency is supposed to complete assessments of each allotment every decade, but many of the allotments PEER inquired about had reports that were 15 years old or more. The project is also meant to bring information together that, until now, has been scattered throughout district field offices across the country, PEER says. Tools like this one could help the land agency take a more landscape-scale approach to management,

Blue highlights indicate where BLM rangeland health assessments mentioned oil development. The PEER map can be searched for a range of impacts to ecosystem health.

 

looking at full watersheds rather than just one piece at a time. And best-case scenario, these types of tools will add another layer of real information to the often emotion-driven debates around public land use in the West.

For more High Country News coverage of public lands debates, see our recent investigation, Defuse the West, which looks at threats to public-land employees and confrontations with local land users.

Tay Wiles is the online editor at High Country News.  Homepage photo of the Argenta allotment in Nevada courtesy Western Watersheds Project.