Interior Desecration

Referring to a recent report by the Union of Concerned Scientists, the Los Angeles Times describes the considerable damage (much of it likely to be irreversible) done by “Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and his minions” as evidence of the profound ignorance and brazen corruption that have come to dominate public policy over the past two years.

“Among the up-is-down, night-is-day practices of the Trump administration, one of the most dangerous and disturbing is its habit of turning America’s leading science agencies into hives of anti-science policymaking.”

Reading the UCS report, one can only imagine the number of times the authors must have wanted, desperately, to use the term train-wreck. Or shit-show.

Alas, cooler heads prevailed. Still, the message comes through loud and clear, beginning with the report’s title: “Science under Siege at the Department of the Interior: America’s Health, Parks, and Wildlife at Risk.” Although government leaders should carefully consider the best available science in their policy making duties, argue the UCS authors, Zinke’s DOI:

“has instead stifled politically inconvenient research, put industry interests ahead of public health, and undermined science-based rules and regulations. The department has established a clear pattern of suppressing science and scientific evidence, particularly when they run counter to the interests and priorities of the coal, gas, and oil industries.” [1]

None of which is news to anybody paying attention. (For a painful refresher, check out the timeline provided in the UCS report, which documents no fewer than 40 “milestones” in the first 21 months of the Trump administration.) Still, in some corners of DOI, this “monumental disaster” would seem to be more a difference of degree than kind. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, I’m looking at you. 

Whether it’s the way the agency played hide-and-seek with its Impacts of Free Roaming Cats on Native Wildlife webinar (once open to the public, it was eventually relocated to Hawaii, as part of The Wildlife Society’s 2011 annual conference), or its Florida Keys National Wildlife Refuges Complex Integrated Pest Management Plan, or its on-again-off-again policy regarding outdoor cats and TNR, USFWS has for years now been ignoring whatever science is inconvenient to the agency’s long-running witch-hunt against outdoor cats—all the while producing and promoting whatever junk science could be gathered to advance their misguided agenda.

Of course, USFWS fuels all of this with our tax dollars. In 2007, for example, the agency paid USDA’s Wildlife Services division $50,000 to trap cats in the Florida Keys. [2] Documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request show that the project resulted in the capture of 13 cats (all of whom were transferred to the Big Pine Key Animal Shelter where it’s likely most, if not all, were killed) 81 raccoons, 28 of which were killed, and one opossum (also killed).

And a more recent FOIA request revealed that USFWS spent more than $230,000 for a series of three papers, one of which was the infamous 2013 paper by Scott Loss, Tom Will (USFWS staff), and Peter Marra, which gave rise to the myth that “free-ranging domestic cats kill 1.3–4.0 billion birds and 6.3–22.3 billion mammals annually.” [3] (The other two papers funded under the same USFWS grant received almost no attention by comparison; this, it seems, was the one USFWS really wanted to see published.)

Perhaps USFWS simply has a blind spot where the issue of outdoor cats is concerned…?

Well, no. Not according to a report issued four years ago this month, in which the House Committee on Natural Resources “found numerous documented examples that call into question the independence, transparency, and accountability of [USFWS’s] peer review process in recent [Endangered Species Act] listing decisions.” [4]

•     •     •

To be clear, I think what’s going on at DOI is—no question—the “monumental disaster” that UCS’s Joel Clement describes. And I’m not suggesting that it’s the result of misconduct at USFWS (or any other DOI agency).

Still though, to hear all the desperate cries about the Trump administration’s anti-science policymaking… Let’s just say it’s a struggle for some of us to muster much sympathy for USFWS.

If there’s a silver lining here, perhaps it’s this: All the recent attention (and there’s undoubtedly more to come) might just lead to a complete reboot of DOI, including USFWS. After all, things will likely be so badly broken by 2020 that the agency will require rebuilding from the ground up. Let’s hope there’s still some ground left—even if we have to lease it back from Big Oil.

Literature Cited

  1. Carter, J.; Markham, A.; Clement, J.; Heid, M.; Worth, P. Science under Siege at the Department of the Interior: America’s Health, Parks, and Wildlife at Risk; Union for Concerned Scientists, 2018.
  2. O’Hara, T. Fish & Wildlife Service to Begin Removing Cats from Keys Refuges. The Key West Citizen. Key West April 3, 2007.
  3. Loss, S. R.; Will, T.; Marra, P. P. The Impact of Free-Ranging Domestic Cats on Wildlife of the United States. Nature Communications 2013, 4.
  4. n.a. Under the Microscope: An Examination of the Questionable Science and Lack of Independent Peer Review in Endangered Species Act Listing Decisions; House Committee on Natural Resources, Office of Oversight and Investigations, 2014; p 36.






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