Thursday, December 01, 2011

Did BLM let politics trump science?

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management told scientists working on a $40 million study mapping ecological trends that they couldn’t look at the effects of grazing, an environmental group says. The Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility filed a complaint Wednesday saying the BLM study violated the Department of Interior’s new policy designed to limit political interference. The complaint is the first major test of a policy that Barack Obama promised environmental groups in the 2008 presidential election. Obama said his administration would emphasize science over political considerations, contrasting that approach with what critics said were Bush adminstration officials who handcuffed scientists and subverted science on pubic lands, wildlife and endangered species — including keeping sage grouse from being listed as an endangered species. Earlier this year, the Interior Department, the BLM’s parent agency, adopted its first scientific-integrity policy prohibiting political interference with, or manipulation of, scientific work. The BLM’s Rapid Ecoregional Assessments, financed with stimulus money, are looking at the impacts of fire, invasive species, urban sprawl, climate change and even rock-collecting in each of the six main regions of the sagebrush West. BLM managers told scientists at an August 2010 workshop to exclude cattle grazing because of “anxiety from stakeholders,” fear of litigation and lack of available data on grazing impacts, PEER said in its complaint...more

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