Group says BLM study is avoiding key topics

Some think agency ignored livestock grazing

CHEYENNE, Wyo. – An environmental group on Wednesday accused the Bureau of Land Management of avoiding science in favor of politics while the agency conducts six studies covering millions of acres across the West.

The BLM ignored concerns raised by scientists by not evaluating livestock grazing as one of the most significant causes of environmental change on Western public lands, the group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility wrote in a complaint filed with the BLM.

The group says the BLM did so out of fear of backlash, including the threat of litigation, from the livestock industry.

The complaint quoted as evidence the minutes of a workshop the BLM held in Colorado last year to plan one of the studies.

“The idea that you could do an ecological map of the West and ignore grazing is preposterous,” PEER executive director Jeff Ruch said.

Interior Department spokesman Adam Fetcher said the department would review the complaint under its scientific integrity policy.

The complaint centers on six “rapid ecoregional assessments” covering 12 states. Since last year the BLM has been working on seven assessments, including one in Alaska not included in the complaint, with help from federal economic-stimulus funding.

The BLM plans to use the assessments to guide public land management after they’re completed next year. They draw from existing data to evaluate how four “change agents” – climate change, wildfires, invasive species and human development – are affecting ecosystems.

Livestock grazing wasn’t included as a change agent despite the fact that it is allowed on two-thirds of all BLM lands, or a total of 157 million acres, according to PEER.