Washington, DC — The U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) says it was an absence of “reliable data”—and not politics—that caused it to exclude consideration of commercial livestock impacts from multi-million dollar assessments of environmental conditions on Western range lands. BLM thus rejected the first scientific misconduct complaint filed against it by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), which today released a detailed rebuttal of BLM’s self-exoneration.
In a letter dated January 2, 2013, Louis Brueggeman, the BLM Scientific Integrity Officer, rejected the PEER scientific misconduct complaint filed more than a year earlier, on November 30, 2011. He concluded that the complaint had “no merit” since the decision to exclude grazing was reached independently by study team leaders (all BLM managers) solely for “technical reasons” relating to the “lack of sufficient existing data” about livestock impacts.
In reaching this conclusion, BLM ignored meeting minutes produced by PEER in which BLM managers are quoted saying that study of grazing impacts would concern “stakeholders” and the Washington Office due to “fear of litigation.” The claim that the real reason was lack of data does not hold water because:
- Attempts to exclude grazing began at the earliest stages of the study, before data availability was even examined. Further, BLM assertions of data gaps were never examined, let alone verified;
- Other factors being studied, such as invasive species, also have data gaps but these issues did not prevent invasive species from being selected as a study focus; and
- BLM managers hid the existence of a major livestock database which was never given to researchers.
“Caught with its pants down, BLM would have us believe it is wearing ankle warmers,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that the $40 million study was the biggest in BLM history but will end up being largely useless. “As by far the biggest disturbance factor on Western range lands, commercial livestock grazing simply cannot be left out of a scientific landscape assessment.”
PEER today asked Dr. Suzette Kimball, the Scientific Integrity Officer for the entire Interior Department, to reject BLM’s findings and institute an independent review. This is the first scientific misconduct complaint filed against BLM under rules purporting to prevent political manipulation of science.
“Unless some standards of credibility are applied, agencies will be able to simply deny instances of scientific misconduct, no matter how well documented or compelling,” Ruch added. “This scientific integrity process will become a complete joke if BLM can get away with claiming ‘the cows ate my homework.’”