18 Oct 2010, 6:31pm
Latest Wildlife News
by admin

Winkelman NRCD Invokes the Data Quality Act

by Margaret Byfield, Coordination Works, American Stewards, October 15, 2010 [here]

Last Friday, the Winkelman Natural Resource Conservation District held an important coordination meeting with Region 2, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Phoenix, Arizona, over the potential listing of the Sonoran Desert Tortoise.

The environmental group, Wild Earth Guardians, sued the Service in 2008, to have the tortoise listed under the Endangered Species Act. Currently, the Regional office is reviewing the State office’s recommendation as to whether or not the tortoise warrants protection.

The environmental group is pushing for the listing of the species because they want to end livestock grazing in Arizona, a long held goal of the environmental movement. But the science points to the opposite conclusion. The most comprehensive scientific study conducted on the Sonoran Desert Tortoise population shows that livestock grazing does not impact the species.

Fortunately, Winkelman Chairman Bill Dunn had been studying the coordination strategy for several years. When the environmentalist filed their case, the Winkelman District initiated coordination with the Service. Friday’s meeting was the third held to discuss the tortoise listing.

In the first meeting, Winkelman presented the Service with an 18-year study led by one of their cooperators and past board members Walt Meyer, an esteemed range scientist who initiated the study on his own largely because there was so little known about the tortoise.

The study surveyed a 23-square mile area where three different grazing techniques were used. A strict protocol was used in gathering the data. In the end, the study showed no impact to the species from livestock grazing, and that a primary impact had occurred years prior as people flocked to the desert to pick Jojoba berries. As they camped, they relied on the tortoise for food.

The Meyer study was the best scientific information available and Winkelman District insisted that it be considered by the Service as they made their recommendation. The District even prepared their own local conservation plan built upon the evidence gathered in the Meyer study. The plan is being initiated throughout the District to ensure the species continues to thrive and the historic productive uses of the land continue.

During the second meeting, Winkelman brought in scientists to discuss and challenge the validity of the data provided by Wild Earth Guardians in their petition to list. The conclusions the environmental group alleged were that the population was in decline. Winkelman’s experts attempted to reproduce the findings from the data cited, but found the information so incomplete that they could not reproduce the claims made by the environmental group.

In August of this year, the Service’s Arizona Field Office forwarded their listing recommendation to the Regional office. Now that the recommendation has been made, regardless of what that decision is, Winkelman can seek to verify the credibility of the data the Service relied upon under the Data Quality Act passed by Congress in 2001. This was the focus of last Friday’s third coordination meeting.

The Data Quality Act was passed in order to ensure that federal agencies provide transparency to the process of developing data, reviewing it for veracity and credibility, and using it accurately and in an unbiased fashion.

This means that every report relied upon by the agency to make its tortoise recommendation must ensure and maximize the “quality, objectivity, utility, and integrity of the information disseminated.” In short, the Service must ensure every piece of evidence it uses to make its recommendation is verified to be accurate and true. … [more]



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