Saturday, June 18, 2005

Administration: "Significant Adverse Effect" = "Beneficial"

Two Bureau of Land Management scientists, now retired, allege in today's Los Angeles Times that 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." An original draft of the environmental analysis report composed by biologist Erick Campbell and an hydrologist Bill Brookes (among others) stated their conclusion that the proposed relaxation of grazing restrictions would have a "significant adverse effect" on wildfire in the affected areas. The final version of the report says that the changes in grazing policy are "beneficial to animals."

Going from "significant adverse effect" to "beneficial to animals" doesn't seem like a change that would be made during the normal course of a drafting process (as BLM officials say it was). It's not, says Campbell: "This is a whitewash. They took all of our science and reversed it 180 degrees. They rewrote everything. It's a crime." Other changes from the draft included the deletion of a sentence which read "The Proposed Action will have a slow, long-term adverse impact on wildlife and biological diversity in general," as well as "language saying how a number of the rule changes could adversely affect endangered species," according to the LAT report.

Bill Brookes is quoted as saying of the changes made to the draft "Everything in the report that was purported to be negative was watered down. Instead of saying, in the long term, this will create problems, it now says, in the long term, grazing is the best thing since sliced bread." He called the new grazing rules "an abrogation of [BLM's] responsibility under the Clean Water Act."

The story does not contain quotes from other scientists involved in the composition of the BLM draft report, noting only that they "could not be reached or did not return calls seeking comment." Agency officials in Washington called the changes "minor."

When I originally read of the grazing rules changes earlier in the week, I wasn't convinced that they were as bad as some environmental groups were making them out to be. I would be much more inclined to think favorably of them if I didn't know what I learned today. I can find no justification for the about-face changes made by BLM officials to the conclusions drawn by career range scientists Campbell and Brookes other than a desire to make the facts fit the pre-determined findings of the Administration.

This is neither good science nor good politics.


At 3:18 PM, Blogger EG said...

Bud Cringley, the agency's manager for rangeland resources who was behind the re-write, is not a polital appointee but a career civil servant. We now have civil servants who [should] have not veted interest in the program, changing the analysis?

This is much worse than the nee White House Aide, now ExxonMobil employee scandal.


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