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DOI Policy Will Increase Transparency, Officals Say. Conservationists Are Dubious

US Fish and Wildlife workers measure a desert tortoise.
US Fish and Wildlife workers measure a desert tortoise.
US Fish and Wildlife workers measure a desert tortoise.
Credit USFWS
US Fish and Wildlife workers measure a desert tortoise.

The Department of Interior just released a new science policy that it says will increase transparency. But conservationists are concerned. 

The DOI order came out late Friday.  It says Interior agencies must use peer-reviewed science whenever possible when making decisions. In an emailed statement the DOI said it came about in response to quote “concerns that the Department has not been providing sufficient information to the public to explain how and why it reaches certain conclusion, or that it is cherry picking science to support pre-determined outcomes." 

"The goal is for the Department to play with its cards face-up (so to speak), so that the American people can see how the Department is analyzing important public policy issues and be confident that it is using the best information available to inform its decisions," a department spokesperson wrote. 

That sounds good, says Bobby McEnaney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, a nonprofit conservation group.But he says the problem is, it can take a long time for science to be peer-reviewed and then published. In the meantime, local land managers won’t be able to make on-the-ground in-the-moment decisions. 

“Agency officials cannot use science unless it passes a gold standard,” McEnaney says. 

He points to how land managers collect science data all the time to predict fire seasons, measure snowfall, or water levels in our reservoirs.“You’re talking about limiting the ability of officials to do their daily job.” 

The order also applies to any private entity that receives research funding from the Interior Department. 

Other conservation groups expressed concern that the new policy might force researchers to reveal confidential sourcing or geographic data, such as the location of sensitive archaeological sites. But the DOI says that information remains protected.

“This Order specifically protects information that is required to be kept confidential by law, and allows the Deputy Secretary to issue waivers when necessary,” a DOI spokesperson wrote via email. 

The new order was not well-publicized by the agency this week. 

“They’re saying this policy is  as good as sliced bread. But they’re not exactly advertising it and you can’t find it on the web. You’d think they’d be more proud about it, and allowing people to hear about and evaluate this new regulation.


Find reporter Amanda Peacher on Twitter  @amandapeacher .

Copyright 2018 Boise State Public Radio

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, Yellowstone Public Radio in Montana, KUER in Salt Lake City and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado.

Copyright 2020 Boise State Public Radio News. To see more, visit Boise State Public Radio News.

Amanda Peacher is an Arthur F. Burns fellow reporting and producing in Berlin in 2013. Amanda is from Portland, Oregon, where she works as the public insight journalist for Oregon Public Broadcasting. She produces radio and online stories, data visualizations, multimedia projects, and facilitates community engagement opportunities for OPB's newsroom.
Amanda Peacher
Amanda Peacher works for the Mountain West News Bureau out of Boise State Public Radio. She's an Idaho native who returned home after a decade of living and reporting in Oregon. She's an award-winning reporter with a background in community engagement and investigative journalism.
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