Sunday, February 26, 2006

In which I correct a Washington Post headline

Federal Wildlife Monitors Oversee a Boom in Drilling is a horrible title. Here are the opening paragraphs of the article:
The Bureau of Land Management, caretaker of more land and wildlife than any federal agency, routinely restricts the ability of its own biologists to monitor wildlife damage caused by surging energy drilling on federal land, according to BLM officials and bureau documents.

The officials and documents say that by keeping many wildlife biologists out of the field doing paperwork on new drilling permits and that by diverting agency money intended for wildlife conservation to energy programs, the BLM has compromised its ability to deal with the environmental consequences of the drilling boom it is encouraging on public lands.
Clearly, the accurate title would be "Federal Wildlife Officials not allowed to Oversee a Boom in Drilling."

I know people who work for various parts of the federal government. I've often been tempted by the work. The pay isn't great and you can't speak out on issues, but that's because you have the ability to influence the issues. The work is more applied than what I tend to favor, but there are good opportunities and a chance to really help.

The persistent abuses that the professional staff of the Executive Branch have suffered at the hands of the Bush administration are turning me off from that. I've said before that the Bush administration isn't against big government, their against good government, and these attacks on the professional staff is a way of poisoning the well. It forces the experienced, talented people out, and scares away their potential replacements.

"The BLM is pushing the biologists to be what I call 'biostitutes,' rather than allow them to be experts in the wildlife they are supposed to be managing," said Steve Belinda, 37, who last week quit his job as one of three wildlife biologists in the BLM's Pinedale office because he said he was required to spend nearly all his time working on drilling requests. "They are telling us that if it is not energy-related, you are not working on it."…

[He said] "I have spent less than 1 percent of my time in the field. If we continue down this trend of keeping biologists in the office and preventing them from doing substantive work, there is a train wreck coming for wildlife."
The effects aren't just reflected in staff levels.

For years the BLM has reallocated money Congress intended for wildlife conservation to spending on energy. A national evaluation by the agency of its wildlife expenditures found three years ago that about one-third of designated wildlife money was spent "outside" of wildlife programs.

An internal BLM follow-up study found last year that this widespread diversion of money has caused "numerous lost opportunities" to protect wildlife. The study found that the unwillingness of the agency to use wildlife money for conservation programs has "reduced ability to conduct on-the-ground restoration" and made the BLM unable "to conduct adequate inventory and monitoring of habitats and populations."

The sum effect of these diversions, the study said, has damaged the credibility of land-use planning by the BLM.
BLM land, like Forest Service land, is accessible for hunting and recreation, and ranchers can lease the land for cattle, so this mismanagement doesn't just get to people who like to think about pretty wildlife. Hunters, ranchers, farmers, and even politicians in Wyoming are getting pissed.

"The pressure comes from Washington," said [Wyoming Governor] Freudenthal, who said he has assigned more state wildlife biologists to Pinedale and other active drilling areas in an attempt to keep up with the federal push. "As you go up the chain of command of BLM and into the Department of Interior, I am not sure they share our commitment to balance. No matter how large the benefits are from this development, it does not justify turning a blind eye to the environment."
Anyone who's traveled through Wyoming knows how beautiful the landscape is, and how that beauty comes from being able to see forever. Gas wells have a small footprint, but they disrupt the scenery for miles. And what work the biologists in the field have been able to do shows that they reduce wildlife densities as well.

There's not a lot out there, and we like what's there.