Sunday, August 8, 2010

OIG Report: “DOI Has Never had a Scientific Integrity Policy”

Exclusive Report by Lisa LeBlanc ~ SFTHH Chief Investigative Reporter
In April of 2010, acting Inspector General of the Department of the Interior (DOI) Mary Kendall issued a letter to Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar summarizing the findings of an evaluation report entitled “Interior Lacks a Scientific Integrity Policy” (Report No. WR-EV-MOA-0014-2009).  The report outlines the objective of determining whether “… codes of conduct [for scientific research and publication] exist and in what form.”
BLM's relationship with Science
All scientific integrity policy documents, from 2000 – 2009 were reviewed. Ms. Kendall states, “We found that Interior has no comprehensive scientific integrity policy”
Only one agency under the DoI has integrity policies in place, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) an agency where the sciences (biology, geography, geology, geospatial & hydrology) are held in deep regard. The web site is akin to reading a romance novel, if a romance novel were a highly technical and instructive manual. USGS is also the only agency to have published scientific reports on wild horse behavior on the range. The reports include such topics as effective management strategies, affects of contraceptives administered on the range and validating aerial photographs identifying wild horses by their markings, among others.
The OIG report, in its synopsis, asserts that the Department of Interior has never had in place a scientific integrity policy or related requirements “to track allegations of scientific misconduct”.  It also states that “without sound policies to protect the scientific community and general public from potentially flawed scientific research, data and publications, Interior’s reputation and its Public trust are at risk”. (emphasis added).
It goes on: “Interior’s mission… is to protect and manage the Nation’s national and cultural resources” and “To date, Interior has never had a comprehensive scientific integrity policy.”
The report further states that for fiscal 2008-2009 Congress appropriated $1.4 Billion for scientific research projects but it also cites examples of the lack of integrity policy allowing high-level department heads to unduly influence, misrepresent or taint results of scientific study. As of April 2010, despite requirements over a decade old, scientific integrity policies still elude nearly all of the agencies under the Department of the Interior.
Even without the report from the OIG wild horse and burro advocates who pore over thousands of current and archived articles, records, reports and transcripts have known that there is little evidence that science is a genuine basis for the continual assault on wild horse and burro populations. When expressing that justified frustration on blogs, in comment sections in articles, even directly to the BLM and its agents, advocates are justified in questioning the Bureau’s method because there appears to be no actual, practical or applied ”method” in population estimates, in forage allocation, in range conditions or in Environmental Assessments that appear to be, as one wild horse advocate stated recently, “cookie cutter” forms; Available at the Front Desk, simply choose from the appropriate terminology column, sign, date and submit.
Where’s the proof? Where are the signatures of the teams that put boots on the ground, walked around, collected specimen grasses and plants, scoped out water resources, photographed stud piles and can identify this herd and distinguish it from that one? With a FY 2010 budget for the Wild Horse and Burro Program at nearly $68 Million, $28 Million of that earmarked for roundups and holding facilities, these “assessments” should be dead on accurate right down to the pollen count on a 1 acre square parcel of rangeland.
The Bureau’s Herd Area Statistics for FY09 state the total acres in Herd Management Areas at 31,864,461, with wild horse and burro totals at 36,940. This comes out to a little less than 863 acres per wild equid. However, the AML states the total of these areas are capable of supporting only 26,578 wild horses and burros requiring 1198 acres to sustain a single wild equine. Nevada’s 15.25 Million acres, according to the BLM Formula, is capable of supporting only 12,688 wild horses and burros requiring 1200 acres per wild equid. This is a staggering assertion. And again, “Where’s the Proof?”
When asked to qualify these findings, the answers themselves are as varied as the colors amongst the horses but still reveal nothing as to how the findings were achieved. Instead, the Bureau reaches for its Standard Issue Truisms and with an affinity for abbreviations, all too familiar to wild horse advocates, adjusts the statistics a little and presents the latest, though hardly the most accurate or ‘scientific’, reasoning for obliterating yet another group of wild equines. Independent research; and all Advocates are guilty of this, the sifting through hundreds of Environmental Assessments and related documents going back decades reveals very little in how the Magic Formulas are arrived at. But oddly enough, even with geological & historic changes in the landscapes, losses of original Herd Management Areas and the passage of time, the Formulas have stayed pretty much the same over those decades.
Judging by the OIG’s findings, scientific principal is just not that important.
Advocates depend on the investigations of agencies like the Office of the Inspector General and the Government Accountability Office and public resources such as the Freedom of Information. And we believe those findings should come at a heavy cost to the agencies at which they’re directed. Only time will tell.
But at the end of the day, we’re left with the imaginings of a group of ordinary citizens fighting an extraordinary cause. Imagine, for instance, a stadium or an arena filled with people, or a small town in Nevada, with a population hovering around 30,000. And picture those people dispersed in small groups across more than 31 MILLION acres. Even with resources at a premium, how is it possible there is simply not enough room?
There are also discomforting realizations that come on the heels of the hard won victories.  Without a sound scientific and cooperative approach in place right now to better manage wild horses and burros and their land, the single largest threat to their survival as a species isn’t drought, disease, starvation, predation, over-population or attrition is the Bureau of Land Management. Or that some Wild Ones ranging free right now have a better chance of dying in captivity than of natural causes on their own ranges. That is unacceptable.
The small battles, fought in an effort to support the larger war; a wild horse advocate is currently fighting for information on disclosure of the whereabouts of more than 600 Mustangs removed from the Southern Nevada desert late last year. When an agent of the BLM feels the need to express feelings of persecution in the Court of Public Opinion, perhaps an inquiry could be made with that agent as to our missing mustangs.
The little inequities that occur, by sleight of hand, while wild horse advocates are busy addressing the big ones; The Moriah Roundup scheduled for later this month will remove 72 Mustangs from their HMA, one of the smallest in Nevada, and they will be zeroed out. Moriah will be re-classified as an HA. According to the Environmental Assessment, the habitat contains ‘insufficient resources’ for wild horses. 72 wild souls and even they couldn’t stay under the radar. Of course, the survivors will be available for adoption from a Utah holding facility; that should bring those mustangs significant comfort & hope. And perhaps the Moriah HMA will finally be put to good use.
By close of business this year, 40,000 wild horses and burros will be held in captivity. 40 Thousand. Many will be sent to the mythical grasslands of the Mid-west and Secretary Salazar may begin to realize his historical fantasy of a vast ‘sanctuary’ system where Wild Equines will become exactly what? Bereft of their roots, families & herds, chemically and physically altered, unable to reproduce, how is this to their benefit, or ours? History may judge Salazar harshly for his contempt of a single species and the bizarre lengths he seems willing to go to wipe the wild horses from the ranges. But before that, the New Sheriff should be aware, advocates aren’t waiting for history and he should be attending to his own house before venturing too much further in other directions.
Wild horse advocates are more than willing to use whatever opportunities/means present themselves and we are always watching. Considering the Inspector General’s report and the unprecedented letter signed by 54 members of Congress, we are not the only ones.
The entire report can be accessed here:

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