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Verify the Science

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Photo by Leah Brosig of Seguin, Texas, was an entry in the 2012 Ranch & Rural Living Photo Contest. By Dan Byfield
CEO, American Stewards of Liberty

Published May 2013

Remember Ronald Reagan’s “trust, but verify” quote he used to describe the relationship with the former Soviet Union?  Unfortunately, today, that same guiding principle is required of our own government.

Federal agencies are making policy decisions based on, and consistently using, false, inflated, faulty, manipulated, biased and, in some cases, artificial and manufactured data and science.

In an attempt to scale back this prejudiced practice, Congress enacted the Information Quality Act (IQA) in December 2000, by adding a two-paragraph provision buried in an appropriations bill.  The legislation applied to every federal agency that is subject to the Paper Reduction Act of 1980, which basically means every agency including the office of the President.

The purpose of the IQA is to ensure that federal agencies use and disseminate accurate information.  Specifically, it requires each federal agency to issue information quality guidelines ensuring the quality, utility, objectivity and integrity of information that they disseminate and provide mechanisms for affected persons to correct such information.
For those of us fighting for private property rights against agencies like the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) over endangered species, the ability to provide and demand credible science has become a game-changer.

Federal Agencies Often Try to Make Policy Based on Flawed Science–We Need to Call Them on Their Assertions, Ask for Proof

The Endangered Species Act (ESA) under Section 1533 (b)(1)(A) requires the Secretary of Interior to make determinations for endangered or threatened species “solely on the basis of the best scientific and commercial data available…after taking into account those efforts…being made by any State…or any political subdivision of a State…”
There are two critical parts to this ESA section that need to be focused upon – the “best scientific and commercial data available” and “after taking into account.”

American Stewards of Liberty is a nonprofit, private property rights organization that has figured out how to use many federal land use-type laws to the benefit of landowners and local governments.  In fact, we worked with eight counties and the Permian Basin Petroleum Association to stop the Service from listing a three-inch lizard as endangered and defend the private property rights of all those in a two million-acre region in Texas and New Mexico.

We prevented the listing and saved those two million acres by taking a hard look at the science.  What we discovered became the “smoking gun!”

Several years ago, government biologists were caught planting wolf hair on a barbed wire fence claiming it proved the animal existed in a particular area and therefore they needed to regulate the landowners to protect the species.  All they were doing was literally and figuratively marking their territory to further their political environmental agenda to control private property.

Once discovered, it and many other examples, gave Congress the impetus to pass the IQA requiring all federal bureaucrats to “prove up” their claims and data so others in local government and land-use managers could rely on it to make wise and proper management decisions.

At American Stewards, we have used both the language in the ESA and the IQA to verify the government’s contentions.  As stated above, the ESA requires the Service use the “best scientific and commercial data available” to make their determinations.  However, the “best scientific and commercial data available” doesn’t necessarily mean it’s truthful or accurate.  All it has to be is the only science available, which makes it the “best” used by the Service.

What we’ve discovered is that when petitions are filed with the Service requesting a species be listed as endangered, it is accompanied by science that is produced by the petitioner.  Opposing science is not.  In fact, the “science” might not even be accurate or proven, but it’s all the Service has and by law, they have to use what has been presented during the 90 day determination period where the Service determines whether a listing is warranted.

But, once the Service publishes their Notice of Intent to list a species in the Federal Register, anyone can review the science.  Once this expensive, yet simple act is undertaken, the science, more often than not, is discovered to be based on biased opinions and/or manipulated facts and conclusions used to create a specific and desired outcome by the petitioner.

In other words, we’ve discovered the science is not always accurate, objective or unbiased totally obfuscating the Congressional intent and mandate of the Information Quality Act and misusing the language of the ESA.  
Any reputable scientist will tell you that some petitioners have a political agenda and use the process to stack the deck in their favor.

Not to give away all of our trade secrets, but with the aid of coordination, we’ve been able, through public meetings that are publicly noticed and held before local government entities like counties and conservation districts, to force federal agencies to “take into consideration” other science that we know is the “best scientific and commercial data available” prior to them making their final determination to list a species as endangered.

And, they are required by law to consider any “new” science before they make their decision.  Coordination just happens to be one of the better ways of placing good science before them prior to a decision.  This is a crucial part of the ESA that few have utilized.

Protecting private property should be one of the most important goals we can have as a nation because it is what produces wealth, feeds our nation and the world, and prevents our government from owning and controlling our lives and economy.

Using faulty science is the way environmental organizations are manipulating our government and federal statutes to their benefit and to the detriment of everyone else.  It is their way of taking away private property rights and giving our government the stick they need to control us.

Our government has proven time and again that they are lazy and cannot be trusted even if they publish their “findings” in the Federal Register as they did with the Dunes Sagebrush Lizard.

An environmental organization had submitted the petition to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service requesting the DSL be listed as endangered.  As discussed, the Endangered Species Act requires all petitions be filed with accompanying data and science that supports their request.

But, what we found was anything but credible science.  The main document (study) being relied upon by the Service turned out to be a one-page, handwritten field note that was not dated or signed.  It could not be verified that it was authentic or credible and was the poorest quality for science imaginable, but it was the government’s “conclusive” evidence that proved oil and gas wells impacted the lizard leading to the determination it should be listed endangered.
It clearly had no useful purpose but was an attempt by the Service to list a species so they could gain control over two million acres and two vital industries – ranching and oil and gas.

So, when we had our third coordination meeting between Chaves County, N.M., and the Service on the DSL, we pulled several scientific documents from their list of studies they were relying on and asked very specific questions.  As it turned out, the “smoking gun” was the one-page field note—that “conclusive” evidence the government was relying upon to list the lizard.

In the meeting, we asked the question of the Service’s agent:  “Have you verified the veracity of this document (the one-page field note), and are you saying it is the reason the DSL deserves to be listed?”  After a few pregnant pauses, he answered, “Yes.”

At that moment, we knew we had them.  And, quite frankly, so did the Service because after the meeting the federal agent came up to me and quietly asked:  “If we don’t list the DSL as endangered, will you defend us in court if the environmentalists sue us?”  Our answer was a resounding “Yes!”

The point was, once we began looking at and researching the science that the Service was relying on, it didn’t hold up to scrutiny.  In fact, our scientists were appalled at the lack of specific information and credible science.

And, this is true of almost every proposed listing.  We recommend whenever possible, find a local government entity to invoke coordination and hire a reputable scientist/biologist to begin reviewing the science provided to the Service in the petition.

As Ronald Reagan said in his first Inaugural Address in January of 1981, “Government is not the solution to our problem.  Government is the problem.”

If we don’t stand up and defend our land, we will have no one to blame but ourselves and we will have no land left to defend.


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