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Department of Interior Wants To Destroy Records of Oil & Gas Leasing, Mining, Wells, Timber Sales and Much More

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Federal agencies don’t keep most of their records forever. At some point, they’re legally allowed to destroy the majority of them.

But when? And which records? That’s up to the agency and the National Archives (with some input from the public, at least in theory).

In an overlooked process that’s been going on for decades, agencies create a “Request for Records Disposition Authority” that gives details about the documents, then proposes when they can be destroyed (e.g., three years after the end of the fiscal year, 50 years after they’re no longer needed, etc.). Occasionally, agencies propose keeping some documents permanently, which means eventually transferring them to the National Archives.

The National Archives & Records Administration (NARA) then “appraises” the agency’s Request for Records Disposition Authority, almost always giving the greenlight.

Around this point, the agency’s request and NARA’s appraisal are announced in the Federal Register. They are not published in the Register, nor are they posted to the Register website (including Regulations.gov). Their existence is simply noted.

Dept. of the Interior is asking for permission to destroy records about oil and gas leases, mining, dams, wells, timber sales, marine conservation, fishing, endangered species, non-endangered species, critical habitats, land acquisition, wild horses & burros and lots more. It’s also wanting to permanently retain a smaller subset of documents in each category, which will be transferred to the National Archives, where they will become harder to access via FOIA.

This is crucial stuff. In the months, years, and decades ahead, if you get “records destroyed” responses, or a vague “no records” response, from NPS, BLM, FWS, BIA, etc., this could be the root cause.

Comment period has been extended to Nov. 23, 2018   READ MORE HERE↓

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Dept. of Interior Whistleblower: Records Were Altered

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“A whistleblower complained that the bureau in Sacramento erased records within an Interior Department database and altered spreadsheets in an effort to hide mismanagement of collections under the agency’s control…”

Thank you to whistleblower Patrick Williams: “They more or less wanted to sweep it under the rug,” Williams said in an interview. “They were telling me to change things they didn’t want to see in the record and not to record information that tribal members might want to see as part of a repatriation request.”

A Department of Interior agency is being investigated for breaking the law. We need to wait to find out the results of the investigation, but it is of concern that databases and spreadsheets could be, and may have been, altered within the Department of Interior. Sally Jewell, what assurances do American taxpayers have that this isn’t a widespread practice? What steps can you take to make sure this doesn’t happen?

Secretary-Jewell-200x278 Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewell (Photo: Tami Heilemann)

SOURCE: santafenewmexican.com

Agency accused of violating law on remains, relics

By Susan Montoya Bryan the Associated Press

ALBUQUERQUE, — An independent federal agency is calling for an investigation into allegations that U.S. officials ignored a law requiring them to catalog, preserve and ultimately return human remains and relics to American Indian tribes.

The U.S. Office of Special Counsel has directed the Interior Department to investigate whether U.S. Bureau of Reclamation officials have violated the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act while managing collections of remains and artifacts amassed during the construction and management of dams and waterways throughout California and parts of Nevada and Oregon.

A whistleblower complained that the bureau in Sacramento erased records within an Interior Department database and altered spreadsheets in an effort to hide mismanagement of collections under the agency’s control, resulting in hundreds of remains and artifacts being lost, boxed up for storage or loaned to museums and universities without the ability to track them.

The watchdog group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility told The Associated Press on Wednesday that it hopes the inquiry will be expanded to cover more agencies and more parts of the West.

“These are relics that do not belong to the American government,” said Jeff Ruch, the group’s executive director. “The point of the law is they belong to the tribes from which they came. If these were your ancestors’ remains and they were boxed up someplace where you couldn’t get any information about them, you’d be pretty angry.”

A spokesman with the Bureau of Reclamation’s Mid-Pacific office could not immediately comment, saying he was unaware of the whistleblower’s case and the call for an investigation.

The federal government’s handling of Native American remains and artifacts has been criticized for years. Following a critical report by the Government Accountability Office in 2010, the Interior Department asked for more money and at least eight years to bolster compliance with the law.

But progress has been slow and frustrating, and communication with tribes is still lacking, said D. Bambi Kraus, a spokeswoman for the National Association of Tribal Historic Preservation Officers. “It’s encouraging that this is being investigated,” she said.

A filing with the Office of Special Counsel shows Patrick Williams, who used to work as a museum specialist in archaeology in the bureau’s Mid-Pacific office, raised concerns with his supervisors that the agency was not complying with the law’s requirements once it stopped keeping detailed records of remains and relics. He also said the office was not filling out the proper paperwork when loaning out artifacts, essentially making the items untraceable.

The office routinely failed to notify tribes of long-stored and newly uncovered remains and funerary objects, Williams said. Some of the collections date back to the 1970s, when the federal government was building the New Melones dam and reservoir in California.

“They more or less wanted to sweep it under the rug,” Williams said in an interview. “They were telling me to change things they didn’t want to see in the record and not to record information that tribal members might want to see as part of a repatriation request.”

Williams said his supervisors told him creating detailed files of the remains and artifacts to comply with the law was “too complicated and required too much time and effort.” He said his concerns resulted in hostility and threats of termination.

“I’m not about to break the law for anybody, and they wanted me to go along with it,” Williams said. “I would rather step out, and that’s what I did.”

A combination of budget cuts and the low priority assigned by bureau managers resulted in responsibilities under the law falling by the wayside, Williams said.

While it’s unclear how widespread the compliance problem is, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility said it wouldn’t be surprised if similar things were happening elsewhere given that budget shortfalls and other priorities are challenges found throughout the agency.

“This is a statutory duty they feel they can ignore,” Ruch said. “The most important part is tribes aren’t being consulted, so there’s nothing to prevent this from going on for years and years.”

The Office of Special Counsel has given the Interior Department 60 days to investigate the allegations and report back.

 

 

Can BLM build shade structures like this?

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new-logo25 Debbie Coffey                    Copyright 2013              All Rights Reserved.

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The Bureau of Land Management adoption site for wild horses at the Sundance Ranch in Redlands, CA, has excellent shade structures that don’t seem to put the horses in any danger, are open to the air on all 4 sides, and also allow sunlight on the ground in the morning and afternoons, to help kill bacteria.

photos by Debbie Coffey

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Depending on the position of the sun, the shade covers different areas of the ground.  To accommodate snow at other BLM facilities, this type of roof might need to cover more area and be more steeply pitched.  But the posts are attached to the fence and don’t seem likely to cause injury.

Then again, the BLM hasn’t worried too much about the danger to the wild horses during roundups and transportation, during the use of a hot-shot, in squeeze chutes, and during the field spaying mares or gelding of cryptorchids (killing many in the process), which don’t happen to wild horses in the wild, so why their big concern about some posts attached to a fence?

While the shade cover at the Sundance Ranch in Redlands might be improved (the roof could be a little higher and an expert should make sure a horse can’t get its head caught between any pipes) this is a huge improvement over most BLM facilities, and accommodates all of the horses in their care.

Why can’t the BLM, the Department of Interior agency that drops millions of taxpayer dollars on the roundups of wild horses every year, fork over some money for shade structures like this?  The Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewell, has a mandate to protect the wild horses.

Send your Congressional representatives these photos, along with the photos taken by many wild horse advocacy groups and individuals at Palomino Valley, and demand some of the “loot” from the Department of Interior’s oil & gas royalties subsidize building these shelters for the wild horses, since the wild horses are being removed from their HMAs for oil and gas development on the same land.

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