Friday, January 19, 2018

Zinke says science is key to agency shake-up. Is he sincere?

Brittany Patterson, E&E News reporter

When Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke launched a massive reorganization of the department last week, he said good science would help him chart the changes. But former officials are raising questions about Zinke's commitment to the scientific process. During a two-day symposium at Interior headquarters last week, Zinke unveiled a map showing 13 proposed regions. Each one would encompass hundreds of thousands of square miles, where the agency's regional bureaus would focus on issues based on their landscapes. That caught the attention of former officials. They lauded the ambitiousness of Zinke's plan to reorient the agency around ecosystems and watersheds. But they are also expressing concern about Zinke's treatment of science, saying his budgetary actions contradict his plan to redraw the agency around a region's terrain. "It lacks some credibility because he's talking about serious staff reductions and making major decisions like cuts to monuments that are majorly political and not based on the science, and now he wants science to support this regional structure," said Andrew Rosenberg, who served as deputy director of NOAA Fisheries under the Clinton administration. Zinke said in a video announcement last week that he's charting the agency's new course based on a vision by John Wesley Powell, the second director of USGS. Interior will no longer draw its boundaries based on state and regional lines, Zinke said, but will draw them based on "ecosystems, watersheds and science."
Note to Readers
If you haven't seen it, below is the Zinke video referred to. Zinke makes several disturbing statements which we'll discuss later. The focus, now though, is on his proposed reorganization.

Other officials are wondering how Zinke can pull off a massive reorganization based on science after proposing such deep cuts to those very programs. He has also rescinded climate change policies. "The goals of coordination are important, and so, too, are missions of the specific bureaus, and figuring out how to balance those has been at least a three-decade-long proposition across administrations," said Lynn Scarlett, a former Interior Department deputy secretary and chief operating officer who also served as acting Interior secretary during the George W. Bush administration. Scarlett, who is now global managing director for public policy at the Nature Conservancy, noted that good science is essential "to underpin and inform virtually all the Department of the Interior's decisionmaking." Cuts to federal science programs jeopardize the ability of the science to get into the hands of federal decisionmakers, she added. nterior officials have pushed to restructure the agency for decades. Marcia McNutt, who served as former President Obama's first USGS director, said the idea was floated during her tenure to better align regional bureaus. "It's not a new idea, and it's not a bad idea," she said, adding that Zinke seems to be underselling the biggest benefits of his proposed reorganization. "I haven't seen climate change being touted as one of the main reasons for this reorganization, and certainly when it was discussed earlier, that was one of the primary motivations for trying to realign all the bureaus to be in sync," McNutt said. One example was launched under Obama. The 22 Landscape Conservation Cooperatives (LCCs) are at their heart science-based. And they cost just $13 million. Administered by the Fish and Wildlife Service, the program is aimed at improving conservation efforts across federal, state, tribal and private lands. It was designed to bring partners together across broad regions to improve the resilience of ecosystems and protect species affected by climate change and other threats. President Trump's fiscal 2018 budget proposal zeroed out its funding. "I was interested to see that Zinke's reorganization highlighted the need to shift to collaborative science, because that already exists through Interior at the Fish and Wildlife Service's LCCs," said Anne Carlson, senior climate adaptation specialist with the Wilderness Society. "It feels very much like he's reinventing the wheel."...more

In May of last year. the House Committee on Natural Resources issued the following press release
WASHINGTON, D.C., May 3, 2017 -Today, Chairman Rob Bishop (R-UT) and Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations Chairman Raúl Labrador (R-ID) sent a letter to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke expressing concerns and requesting information on two climate change adaptation programs established within the Department of the Interior during the Obama administration.The Climate Science Centers (CSCs), which are led by the U.S. Geological Survey, and the Landscape Conservation Cooperatives (LCCs), which are principally managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, have both been identified as having insufficient internal controls, lacking transparency and potentially funding duplicative research.   “Despite a significant federal investment of at least $149 million,  their effectiveness, management, and levels of oversight remain serious concerns to the Committee. Since their inception, the CSCs and LCCs have lacked necessary internal controls, failed to develop effective communication policies, and have put taxpayer dollars at risk by acting in contravention of guidelines issued by Interior and the Office of Management and Budget,” the letter states.  “Most recently OIG issued a program evaluation in which it found that taxpayer dollars are further imperiled due to the fact that the ‘CSCs and LCCs had no formal process to coordinate the prevention of duplication in research grants...’ In its review, OIG found that the CSCs and LCCs lacked a written policy for coordination, and that the LCCs failed to adequately keep track of their projects in a centralized database that could be utilized and accessed program-wide.”Click here to read the full letter.
The article states Trump's proposed budget "zeroed out" the funding for the LCCs. However, Congress has continued to fund the CSCs and LCCs, so this may not be much of a threat. And if they were established administratively, they could have been disbanded administratively, and to my knowledge have not been disbanded.

Despite the OIG reports and the concerns expressed by Bishop and Labrador, Zinke appears to base his reorganization on the same concept - ecosystem management. Some will say the Obama LCCs were the first step, and now Zinke proposes to implement the same management scheme in a fashion not even dared by the Obama administration. You will note the enviro reps quoted are critical of budget proposals, but not of the overall concept. Some think this is what they have been after for years.

We will be evaluating all this as more information becomes available. One should not, however, limit their evaluation through the lens of "what is the most scientific way to manage resources." That has to be overlaid with our form of government. Will this proposed reorganization increase or diminish the role of states in resource management? Will it increase or diminish the role of the feds in resource management? How will this affect the role of Congress in authorizing, oversight and appropriations?

Surely there is a more "scientific" way to pass a budget than what we are currently witnessing, but it is a small price to pay to maintain our representative republic. Our Founding Fathers designed a multitiered system to protect our liberty by restraining government. Their efforts had nothing to do with "scientific" management or efficiency. That's the lens through which we should evaluate this and other proposals.

Ranch Radio Song of the Day

TGIFF! Its Fiddle Friday and we bring you Tommy Jackson and his 1953 recording of Fiddlin' Rag.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Ammon Bundy Led Two Armed Standoffs Against The Government, And He’s Prepared To Do It Again

Salvador Hernandez

Ammon Bundy, the former Nevada rancher who twice led an armed standoff against federal agents and twice avoided a prison sentence, told BuzzFeed News he was prepared to launch another armed confrontation with the government if he felt it was necessary. Bundy, the son of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, led the 40-day occupation of an Oregon wildlife refuge in 2016 and helped organize the 2014 armed Nevada standoff against federal agents. Earlier this month, a federal judge threw out the case against the family, citing misconduct by the FBI and prosecutors who failed to share evidence with defense attorneys. Despite spending two years behind bars awaiting the outcome of criminal trials for the armed standoffs, the Bundy family remained undeterred in their feud with the federal government, one that has gained thousands of supporters in the West. "I'm not going to run from something like that, but then again, I never was looking for it," Bundy, 42, said Wednesday in a phone interview. "But if it is necessary again to limit and bring awareness to what our form of government is doing — and our governments in general are doing it — I think I would have to consider it again." Bundy said he didn't know what might prompt such action, but "I hope I don't find out." "I see myself defending my rights, defending my neighbor's rights and standing up for injustices, but I don't see myself going out and picking a fight," he said. "I hope I don't have to." Though drastic, Bundy defended the decision to launch armed confrontations with the government in both Nevada and Oregon, arguing that doing so brought national attention to the fight over public lands and highlighted the actions of federal officials. "Our families suffered, but we had to do something," Bundy said. "I thought we did the right thing." Bundy said it was not the only action he would consider in the future, and suggested a change of strategy, one that veers away from armed confrontations and toward public office...more

Just had a great visit with...

No posts this afternoon but my time was well spent sharing memories with Bear McKinney, who I hadn't seen in 40 years.

U.S. Interior Department blasts resigning National Parks board members

The U.S. Interior Department on Wednesday said it welcomed the mass resignation of members of the National Parks Service advisory board, saying they had ignored sexual harassment cases and lied about how they were treated by the Trump administration. “We welcome their resignations and would expect nothing less than quitting from members who found it convenient to turn a blind eye to women being sexually harassed at National Parks,” Interior Department spokeswoman Heather Swift said in an emailed statement. She added it was “patently false to say the Department had not engaged the board, when as recently as January 8 we were working with the board to renew their charter, schedule a meeting, and fill vacancies.”...more

EPA official declines to testify at Superfund hearing


Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt's point man for Superfund efforts has declined to testify at a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing on the sites' cleanup efforts scheduled for Thursday. After previously promising to speak at the hearing, Albert Kelly withdrew his name from the witness list last week, citing "an unavoidable scheduling conflict," according to a Democratic spokesperson for the committee. Kelly, a former chairman of Oklahoma-based SpiritBank, made headlines recently following news that he had been banned from working in the banking industry. The Intercept also reported that the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) had fined Kelly $125,000 in May 2017 for violating the law. According to a consent order obtained by the The Intercept through a Freedom of Information Act request, the FDIC believed it had reason to think Kelly "violated a law or regulation, by entering into an agreement pertaining to a loan by the Bank without FDIC approval.” Two weeks later, Pruitt appointed Kelly his senior adviser and head of the Superfund Task Force. An EPA spokesperson said that an Office of Land and Emergency Management official will now testify at Thursday's committee hearing. The spokesperson added that Kelly was never formally invited to testify through a letter by the committee and only Principal Deputy Assistant Administrator Barry Breen received a letter...more

52 bison have gone missing and Yellowstone wants to know where they are

Yellowstone had planned a bison roundup beginning January 16 that would involve a closure to the public of the Stephens Creek facility. When they got there, park officials discovered someone had beat them to it. On the morning of January 16, park staff discovered 52 bison being held at the Stephens Creek facility for quarantine had been released from their pens. In response, the National Park Service has initiated a criminal investigation of this incident. “This is an egregious criminal act that sets back bison conservation. It delays critical ongoing discussions about a quarantine program and the transfer of live Yellowstone bison to tribal lands. The park is aggressively investigating this incident,” said Yellowstone National Park superintendent Dan Wenk. Currently, park staff is making an effort to locate and recapture the bison. None of the animals have yet been located. The missing bull bison were being held in two separate pens. A group of 24 animals have been in confinement since March 2016 and another group of 28 animals has been confined since March 2017. These animals were being held and tested for brucellosis at Stephens Creek as part of a plan being considered to establish a quarantine program. Some of the animals were targeted for tribal use. “I am absolutely heartbroken for the Fort Peck Tribes who have been working with the park, the state of Montana, and Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service for years to repatriate these bison,” said Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke...more

How Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke prompted a mass resignation from his National Park Service Advisory Board

Keith Schneider
Few groups have been closer and more involved in Interior Department policy and management than the National Park System Advisory Board, an appointed and nonpartisan group established 83 years ago to consult on department operations and practices. So it came as a shock this week when nine of the board’s 12 members abruptly resigned in protest, complaining that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke had disregarded their requests to meet at least once, a circumstance no other Park System Advisory Board had encountered. “We were deeply disappointed with the department’s actions in dealing with us,” said former Alaska Gov. Tony Knowles, a Democrat who served as the board’s chairman. “Advisory board advice can be accepted or ignored. The fact they suspended the board and there were no meetings on issues of climate and science, no meetings on finding ways to help underrepresented groups visit the parks. Those were the programs we’d spent years working on with previous secretaries. Those were the programs we wanted to discuss with the new secretary and keep the momentum going.” “We started talking last summer,” said Gretchen Long, an advisory board member from Wyoming who was appointed in 2010. “Is there any point to continuing to serve? We wanted to make a statement to the American public about the direction the department is taking and the stewardship of our parks and public land. These treasures are in trouble because of the actions the department has taken.” She added that the board “encountered a lack of understanding that is appalling.” The Interior Department did not respond to requests for comments from the secretary or a senior department leader. Theresa Pierno, the chief executive of the National Parks Conservation Assn., a separate, nonprofit advocacy organization, said she and her colleagues had experienced the same difficulties in attracting the Interior secretary’s attention. In an interview on Wednesday, she said Zinke is the first Interior secretary to refuse to meet with her organization’s executives to discuss the operation and condition of national parks since the NPCA was founded in 1919 by Stephen Mather, the first National Park Service director. “We haven’t been able to even have a conversation with them,” said Pierno. “The conservation community in general has not been invited in. Why wouldn’t you want to hear from an organization that has the history, the expertise like the NPCA? We’re nonpartisan. We have Republicans and Democrats on our board. There’s really no rational answer.”...more

No rational answer? How about the Secretary and everybody else knows what advice he will get --more money for the NPS.

Ranch Radio Song of the Day

The Louvin Brothers bring their great harmony to this 1956 recording of What Is Home Without Love.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Border Patrol brain drain: Agency losing more agents than it can hire

As the president renewed his call for a border wall, the agency charged with building it is facing a manpower crisis. The Border Patrol is losing agents faster than it can hire them. The agency is already 2,003 short of what is congressionally mandated and the president ordered it to hire 5,000 more agents. “It is an employment crisis,” said agent and Tucson union chief Art Del Cueto. “We are losing more agents than we can hire.” According to a GAO report last year, the Border Patrol is losing 905 agents annually, while hiring only 523. Some are retiring but many with five or 10 years of experience are taking higher-paying jobs in other federal agencies in less remote areas with better schools, health care and job opportunities for their spouses...more

H.R.732 - Stop Settlement Slush Funds Act of 2017

Printus LeBlanc writes

One of the most overlooked actions Attorney General Jeff Sessions took was to end third-party settlements. Under the previous administration, the Justice Department allowed companies it fined to pay third-parties organizations not associated with the original crime. Not only did the department allow the offenders to pay third-parties, they received double the credit for doing so. The payments would go to Obama administration approved organizations such as National Council of La Raza, the National Community Reinvestment Coalition and the National Urban League. All left leaning organizations that help the help the Democrat Party carry out its mission. Congressional investigators estimate at least $3 billion went to third-party groups during the Obama administration. Sessions issued the order on June 7, 2017, stating, “When the federal government settles a case against a corporate wrongdoer, any settlement funds should go first to the victims and then to the American people— not to bankroll third-party special interest groups or the political friends of whoever is in power,” said Attorney General Jeff Sessions. “Unfortunately, in recent years the Department of Justice has sometimes required or encouraged defendants to make these payments to third parties as a condition of settlement. With this directive, we are ending this practice and ensuring that settlement funds are only used to compensate victims, redress harm, and punish and deter unlawful conduct.” The Sessions led Justice Department has also ended the “sue and settle” scheme. Under the Obama administration, left-leaning groups would sue the federal government to enforce a regulation in a new, expanded way. Because the Obama administration agreed with the left-leaning groups, they refused to defend the federal laws on the books, and would “settle” the suit by signing “consent decrees” that functioned as new regulation. Not only did the practice create new regulations devoid of congressional oversight, but it also became a cash cow for liberal law firms. Because the government refused to mount a defense, the left-leaning groups were entitled to substantial attorneys’ fees, paid for by the taxpayer. This was another scheme to fund the left and change the laws without going through Congress. But thanks to Sessions, this is no longer happening...For these reforms to become permanent — and to prevent them from happening again — the Congress should pass specific pieces of legislation. House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) has a bill H.R. 732, Stop Settlement Slush Funds Act of 2017 that has already passed the House, and now sits in the Senate awaiting action. The House has also put the legislation in the upcoming budget, Sec 540, but unfortunately, the Senate has yet to act...

Embedded below is the House Report on this bill. Encourage your Senators to support this legislation.

'New California' movement seeks to divide the Golden State in half

Bradford Betz

Two men have launched a campaign to divide rural California from the coastal cities, motivated by what they referred to as a “tyrannical form of government” that doesn’t follow the U.S. Constitution or the state one, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. Unlike the failed 2016 campaign to split California into six states, the “New California” movement, founded by Robert Paul Preston and Tom Reed, seeks to consolidate rural California into a distinct economy separate from the coast. "After years of over taxation, regulation, and mono party politics the State of California and many of its 58 Counties have become ungovernable," the movement declares on its website. Preston and Reed say the citizens of the state live “under a tyrannical form of government that does not follow" constitutional requirements. "There's something wrong when you have a rural county such as this one, and you go down to Orange County which is mostly urban, and it has the same set of problems, and it happens because of how the state is being governed and taxed," Preston told CBS Sacramento. The "founders" have evoked Article IV Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution as justification for establishing a new economy with a new state constitution. The "founders" have evoked Article IV Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution as justification for establishing a new economy with a new state constitution. It states that a consensus must be reached by the state legislatures of California as well as Congress. The process, according to New California representatives, could take 10 to 18 months. The New California movement unveiled a “Declaration of Independence,” earlier this week that called for a “free and Independent State” with “full power to establish and maintain law and order, to promote general prosperity.” Fox News

Australia's Akubra hat girl kills herself after online bullying, family says

A 14-year-old girl who was the face of Australia’s iconic hat company Akubra killed herself after enduring online bullying, her family said Sunday. Amy “Dolly” Everett, who began the ad campaign when she was 8, died last week to “escape the evil in this world,” her father Tick Everett wrote in a Facebook post. The family did not reveal the extent or the reasons why the girl was bullied. “This week has been an example of how social media should be used, it has also been an example of how it shouldn't be,” Everett wrote. The family released a separate statement on Wednesday to Australia’s ABC Network saying their daughter’s death was the world “crashing down” on them, but thanked the public for the “overwhelming” support. "This is all we are capable of at the moment and ask for your respect to give us time to grieve," the family said. "Our daughter Dolly was the kindest, caring, beautiful soul, and she was always caring for animals, small children, other children at boarding school who were less fortunate than herself.” Akubra also posted a tribute to Dolly Everett on Tuesday, saying the company was “shocked and distressed” to hear about the girl’s death...more

Ranch Radio Song of the Day

Here's a tune that too many people won't understand - Feelings of a Countryman by Bobby & Mark Atkins