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Amid Government Shutdown, Trump’s Interior Department Rolls Back Transparency

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Source:  Wildearthguardians.org

Rule Changes Meant to Stymie Public Interest Groups, Undermine Right to Know, Condone Government Secrecy

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UPDATE (12/28/2018):  Interior’s proposed rule was published in today’s Federal Register, you can access it here >>

Although Interior is asking for public comment until January 28, 2019, the agency is not actually capable of receiving and processing comments due to the government shutdown.

Despite a government shutdown, the U.S. Department of the Interior is proposing changes to its transparency regulations that threaten to make it more difficult for Americans to request and obtain records from the federal government.

In a proposed rule slated to be published tomorrow, Interior is calling for sweeping rule changes in order to, in its words, respond to “the unprecedented surge in FOIA [Freedom of Information Act] requests and litigation.”

Click here to view our annotated version of the most insidious provisions of the proposed rollbacks and how they completely undermine our federal transparency laws.

The proposal is a blatant attack on our democratic right to know.  The Freedom of Information Act is our nation’s bedrock transparency law and it’s meant to ensure Americans have the ability to know what their government is up to.

WildEarth Guardians uses the Freedom of Information Act extensively as we watchdog the Interior Department and other government agencies.  In fact, we post all records we obtain on our website so all Americans have access to information that would otherwise be unavailable.

It’s undeniable there has been a surge in Freedom of Information Act requests and litigation in response to the Trump Administration’s assault on transparency and the public interest.  In fact, the number of lawsuits filed under the Freedom of Information Act has hit record highs under Trump….

Yet Interior’s claim that this is a problem is belied by the fact that the Department utterly flouts the Freedom of Information Act and actively promotes a culture of secrecy, opaqueness, and unaccountability to the American public.

In our experience in dealing with the Interior Department under the Freedom of Information Act, we’ve found the agency regularly ignores deadlines, consistently finds ways to deny access to government records, purposefully drags its feet in responding to requests for information, and refuses to provide the resources and staffing needed to meet its legal obligations under federal transparency law.

To boot, among federal agencies, Interior is one of the worst in terms of making information available online.

It’s no wonder the Department gets sued. Yet rather than truly address the underlying lack of legal compliance and disrespect for transparency, Interior is instead proposing to change the rules.

Without a doubt, the proposed regulatory changes are an assault on transparency. Among the more insidious changes:

Currently, agencies have to honor all records requests, regardless of the amount of times and resources required to search for records. This reflects the fact that the Freedom of Information Act mandates full transparency and does not allow agencies to selectively censor information simply because they believe it would be “hard” to provide records.

This proposal would effectively condone footdragging and deny access to government information. The change would allow agencies to impose baseless “quotas” on information requests.

The Freedom of Information Act requires agencies provide records at no cost to organizations intending to use information to advance the public interest. Although the law requires fee waivers be granted liberally, Interior’s proposed changes would effectively turn the tables on public interest groups.

The new wording would set higher and nearly unattainable criteria, provide more discretion to deny fee waivers, and allow the Department to second-guess claims that information would serve a public interest.

For example, the proposal would allow Interior to deny fee waivers if it deems a request does not “concern discrete, identifiable agency activities, operations, or programs with a connection that is direct and clear, not remote or attenuated.”

This essentially lets the federal government deny fee waivers simply because it believes the requested information isn’t relevant.

Overall, the proposed rule aims to add more subjectivity into the Interior Department’s transparency regulations, clearly intending to give agencies more discretion to deny access to information and to deny fee waivers.

Overall, the changes appear to be blatantly contrary to the Freedom of Information Act. Click here to see our annotated version of the Department’s proposed rule with our comments on how it runs afoul of federal law.

Read the entire article HERE.

 

Debbie Coffey & Carol Walker of Wild Horse Freedom Federation detail Bureau of Land Management’s lack of transparency

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Join us this evening, December 6, 2018 at 7:00 pm CST!

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Opposition Builds To Interior Department Records Purge

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SOURCE:  dcreport.org

Group Says Documents Reveal Efforts to Kill Wild Horses, Land Grabs and Other Outrages

A nonprofit advocating for wild horses, one of the groups opposing a massive proposed document purge at Trump’s Interior Department, said record requests helped the nonprofit learn about a plan to send thousands of wild horses to a tiger refuge in Russia.

“These records are especially important for oversight now that large numbers of wild horses and burros are being ‘adopted’ in larger numbers, and to organizations and to overseas destinations,” wrote Debbie Coffey, vice president of the Wild Horse Freedom Federation. “We will need to access these records in order to ensure that wild horses and burros are not being adopted or sold and ending up in the slaughter pipeline.”

The Trump administration wants to bury science and hide how mining, drilling and logging on public lands devastate our precious natural spaces.

The proposed document purge includes records about endangered species, oil and gas leases, timber sales, dams and land purchases.

The National Archives has said that getting rid of records is standard and has been going on for decades. The schedule’s language gives broad authority to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to destroy records documenting government efforts to protect endangered species and public lands.

“The Trump administration wants to bury science and hide how mining, drilling and logging on public lands devastate our precious natural spaces,” said Meg Townsend, an attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity.

The federation learned from a document request that the Bureau of Land Management in 2011 under former President Barack Obama considered shipping wild horses to a sanctuary in Siberia where they could be killed and eaten by leopards and tigers.

“Would we pay for shipping to Vladivostok or allow horses to be placed on a sanctuary with known heavy predator population?” asked Karla Bird, an acting division chief.

BLM ultimately decided against sending our nation’s wild horses to Russia to be eaten by tigers.

But in 2017, the bureau again was looking at sending horses to Russia and also to Guyana in South America.

Under the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act, passed by Congress in 1971 when Republican Richard Nixon was president, the federal government is supposed to manage and protect the herds. Almost 82,000  wild horses and burros roam our nation’s public lands. More than 50,000 others are corralled.

The Trump administration proposed euthanizing or selling “excess animals” in 2017, but Congress kept a ban on slaughtering the animals.

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ACTION BOX/What You Can Do About It

The comment period about the proposal to destroy Interior Department records has ended.

Contact Secretary Ryan Zinke about concerns about keeping records. Call him at 202-208-3100, reach out to him on FacebookTwitter or send an email.

Write: Department of the Interior / 1849 C St., NW / Washington, D.C. 20240

Wild Horse Freedom Foundation can be contacted online.

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You can read articles on dcreport.org HERE.

5th Anniversary of Wild Horse & Burro Radio show with many friends and past guests! (Wed., 11/7/18)

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BLM shamelessly blames the deaths of 2 foals during roundups on “capture shock”

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This is a wild family in the Green Mountain Herd in Wyoming. For the past three days the BLM has been chasing hundreds of horses with helicopters and rounding them up and yesterday two foals died of what the contractor calls “capture shock.” 

Here’s the BLM’s story in their Gather Reports:  “Summary: BLM euthanized a captured horse with a pre-existing condition. Two colts were treated for capture shock during sorting at the holding corral. One colt died shortly after being treated and the other died while being transferred to the veterinary hospital in Lander”

Here’s our opinion:  It was very hot.  These foals likely ran as hard as they could to keep up with their mothers while being chased by a helicopter.  The BLM ran them to death.  So while the BLM attempts to put lipstick on a pig by blaming the deaths of the foals on “capture shock,” we place the blame directly where it belongs – on the BLM.
If the foals were treated, where are the vet reports?   

This is so cruel and unnecessary – the forage and water is in great shape in Wyoming.

 

Update from the Field: Largest Buffalo Safe Zone Sold, Zinke Aims to Drive Down Buffalo Population

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Source: Buffalo Field Campaign

Buffalo Safe Zone Sold

Montana’s largest Buffalo Safe Zone has been sold. The former Galanis property, about 700 acres of lush green grass and rolling hills, was recently bought, and while we don’t know exactly how the new owners feel about the buffalo, the large “Bison Safe Zone” sign has been removed. The caretaker has contacted us to say that we are no longer welcome there, and we fear that this may mean the same for the buffalo. This is *critical* habitat that the buffalo from the imperiled Central herd use winter and spring, one place they are safe from any harm, and they are devoted to this land which is part of their calving grounds. The Galanis family — incredible champions of the buffalo — are devastated that they have had to let this land go. It’s a heavy blow to all of us. But, we still don’t know for sure how things may or may not change. Perhaps the new owners will understand the tremendous support and fierce loyalty the buffalo have from all the surrounding neighbors and others throughout the West Yellowstone community, and keep things as they are.

Wenk Forced out by Secretary of Interior Zinke

On the federal level, Yellowstone’s superintendent, Dan Wenk, has been ousted by Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke. Though wrongfully touted by some “green” groups as a “bison protector”, Wenk had, apparently, been in dispute with Zinke over the number of wild buffalo — the country’s national mammal — who should exist in the Park. The controversial Interagency Bison Management Plan, crafted in the interests of ranchers, places a political cap of 3,000 on the buffalo population. A number not supported by science, ecology, or any form of logic. Yellowstone National Park alone can sustain upwards of 6,500 buffalo, while the surrounding lands of the Greater Yellowstone country could support at least 20,000. For a population who once existed in the tens of millions, this is still a minuscule population size. Yet, Zinke — a Montana cattleman — wants to drive the endangered population down to a mere 2,000.

Zinke, a corrupt Trump appointee, is a known enemy of the earth, a strong champion of industry and corporations who has oil & gas, timber, mining, and ranching advocates salivating. It’s no surprise that, being from Montana, his attention would turn to the wild buffalo of Yellowstone with an aim to cause them greater harm.

For nearly 30 years Park Superintendents have played a lead role in slaughtering buffalo inside Yellowstone National Park. Some have expressed regret, like Mike Finley. Wenk is just the most recent of several superintendents behind the National Park Service’s ongoing slaughter of our last wild buffalo.

That being said, the reality is, Wenk has hardly been a champion of the buffalo. Thousands of the country’s last wild buffalo — the beloved Yellowstone herds — have been shipped to slaughter from within Yellowstone, brutally treated, hazed, domesticated, and otherwise harmed with Wenk standing as Yellowstone’s superintendent. For all the years he’s been in office, he has bent over backwards to serve Montana’s livestock industry, destroying imperiled wild buffalo. It has only been in recent months — after Yellowstone’s trap was attacked four times — and public pressure against the buffalo slaughter has been mounting — that he has started to come out advocating for wild buffalo to be managed as wildlife, and that the livestock industry should not be the ones to dictate how buffalo live or die.

Too little, too late. Actions speak much louder than words, and Wenk’s hands are covered in buffalo blood no different than Zinke’s aim to be. Not only that, but a 50-year wild buffalo domestication / commercialization program has been approved under Wenk’s “protective” leadership, which has already resulted in dozens of buffalo being slaughtered or confined for life.

Will it be worse without him as Superintendent? We simply need to grasp that this whole system is broken and we must stand in solidarity and fight back harder. Zinke has made it clear that the war against the country’s last wild buffalo — our national mammal — is escalating. With our sites aimed straight and true, we stand up even stronger for the wild.

WILD IS THE WAY ~ ROAM FREE!

http://www.buffalofieldcampaign.org/bfc-news/updates-2017-2018/update-from-the-field-largest-buffalo-safe-zone-sold-zinke-aims-to-drive-down-buffalo-population

Stephany Seay, Media Coordinator for Buffalo Field Campaign, on the fight to protect the last, genetically pure wild buffalo in Yellowstone National Park (Wild Horse & Burro Radio, Wed., 3/28/18)

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Join us March 27, 2018 at 7:00 pm CST!

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