“Information is Power” is a 5 part series that delves into the process of gathering accurate information on matters associated with wild horse and burro management by federal agencies.
At the bottom of this page is an action item we urge you to take. We have created a script for you to use in calls, or to copy and paste (revise if you like) into emails.
The landing page for articles in this series can be found HERE.
The pieces in this series focus on “information.” Accurate information is the basis for an effective voice, an effective advocacy. How you gain, and use, information is a vital tool.
These pieces are presented in first person narrative. We have found that when we present articles this is the most effective format for our readers when we address subjects that can get a bit “technical.”
Information is Power, Part One: This first segment addresses the current challenges faced as transparency has taken a massive step backwards and now faces another threat.
Over the years I have worked with many news outlets and documentary film makers. In many instances I have been utilized as a sort of “research engine.” I have helped find information for our litigation and our stories. WHE has also assisted many others that were/are creating a variety of news stories (like the story in ProPublica by Dave Philipps that uncovered nearly 1800 wild horses sent to one kill-buyer with a connection to former Secretary of the Interior, Ken Salazar, I’ll take about that in segment 2).
Over the last 4 years requests for information, compared to the 4 years prior, increased as interest in public land issues rose dramatically post “Bunkerville.” Information requests were not just about wild horses, but public lands. The phrase “trespass rancher” had become part of the cultural vocabulary.
Over the last two years these requests have more than doubled.
Is it an increased interest in public lands causing this last rise in requests? perhaps that is part of the equation. However the root of the increase in requests lies elsewhere.
In November of 2016 the Department of Interior removed massive amounts of information from their website. Searching for the most basic information on many programs no longer brings a result. Requesting information from federal employees often meets with denials. At that juncture the only alternative is to file a FOIA.
“Can you please help me? I am doing a story on wild horses. I am simply trying to verify the number of wild horses removed off the range and how many died, by year, since the passage of the act. I can not find that information.”
Sounds simple enough. BLM used to keep a year by year cache of the schedule; the proposed number they intend to capture, the number actually captured and deaths during capture online. In fall of 2016 all of that information was removed from BLMs online interface, and to date that information is not back on the website.
From 2010-2014 BLM also used to do “facility reports” post capture. Those reports would show how many arrived at each facility, how many died. What BLM references as “vet reports” also used to be posted online. The old reports are gone and BLM no longer posts that information.
When we are talking about “wild horses” the simple act of finding roundup schedules from prior years has become something you need to do a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for (unless you reach out to someone that might have that information stored like an advocacy organization).
When you are searching for active proposed projects in development, BLM has a portal called “eplanning.” This portal is incomplete and many items listed have not been updated. So unless you read the federal register on a daily basis, subscribe to every possible mailing list, do not have your name dropped off a mailing list (this happens to me at least once a year, on at least 2 lists each year), have your address misspelled (this also happens repeatedly), you can easily miss a project or fail to get the scope of all of the projects active at one time.
I have joked that “Page Not Found” should be the new BLM t-shirt now that things have gotten so bad. But this is no joke.
A lot of noise was created as Interior removed information on climate change. Sage Grouse information was taken down during a critical comment period this month and was restored only after the media picked up the story and complaints were made.
I made a simple request during comments on Gold Rock for specific data referenced in the EIS, but not included. Our request was denied. It was not only denied, but it was denied in an extremely rude fashion. Vital information critical to my ability to engage process appropriately was intentionally withheld. We filed litigation because there are many issues involved with this EIS. However, if I were not someone with the ability to craft litigation what type of response could I give? What could I do?
I have also had to file litigation relevant to FOIA and I will touch on that in a later segment. I mention it here because I am going to ask that you all really pay attention to the next couple of paragraphs and take an action that might seem a bit “out of the box.”
The Department of Interior (DOI) is complaining about “Exponential increases in requests (FOIA) and litigation.” DOI has proposed regulations that will create even more opportunities to block Freedom of Information Act requests, fee waivers, and expedited handling of records. You can read the proposed changes published for public comment on December 28th, during the “government shutdown,” by clicking HERE.
It is also important to point out that the proposed changes were authorized by Daniel Jorjani as the “Principal Deputy Solicitor, Exercising the Authority of the Solicitor.”
Many of our readers have joined us in our ongoing efforts to bring an investigation into the DOI. We have written about how Brian Steed (former Chief of Staff of Chris Stewart) was given the position of Deputy Director of BLM, with the acting authority of the Director, by Ryan Zinke.
The position of “Solicitor,” as well as that of Director of BLM, are positions that need to be confirmed by the Senate. Zinke’s DOI has been creating massive changes to our public resources and attacking the publics ability to hold him accountable. He has accomplished much of this by utilizing a frame that in and of itself is likely illegal. Over 40,000 people have added their names to our ongoing efforts in support of an investigation into DOI and BLM. (We will have more on this in part 3 and 4).
The deadline for comments on the proposed changes is January 28th and we are creating extensive comments to submit through outlined protocol. We will share those with you in segment 5 of this series of articles so you can participate as well.
At this time please reach out to your Congressmen and Senators. That might seem a bit “out of the box” as the comment period has not closed. The proposed changes should not be allowed until the investigation into “Zinke’s DOI” is completed. Access to information is vital at this time.
- Please stop the Department of Interior from making changes to 43 CFR Part 2, the Freedom of Information Act.
- The DOI must be stopped from any attempts to undermine the publics ability to gain information and participate in government as an informed citizen.
- The free press should not be hamstrung by vague new restrictions.
- If the DOI wants to decrease FOIA requests they find “burdensome,” they simply need to become more transparent.
- Require the DOI to restore all records, reports and documents that had appeared on all web portals prior to November 2016. Most information has been removed, including all records and reports referencing the BLM Wild Horse and Burro program. BLM must add all new comparative records and reports on wild horse captures, facilities, range and monitoring information, from the 2016 to the present.
- If the DOI wants to diminish the publics need to request information via FOIA they should not be allowed to restrict those requests. Instead the DOI should be forced to become more transparent.
- Stop the DOI from amending 43 CFR Part 2, the Freedom of Information Act.
You can find your representatives at the links below. You can either call or send an email. Please contact both your representative in the House and Senate. https://www.govtrack.us/congress/members
After you make your call you can add your name to support our efforts to stop the changes and force the DOI to become more transparent. We ask that you only sign onto the list below after you make the call or write your email.
Part two will focus on the Freedom of Information Act; what it is and examples of why it is so important. The link will be added to the landing page noted at the beginning of this page.
The fight begins on the range. We need your help to build a frontline long before a chopper flies.