Secretary Ryan Zinke's Department of the Interior has used "unsound science and poor ethics" in an attempt to cut protections for an endangered species of beetle, according to top scientific experts involved in the matter.

The species at issue is the American Burying Beetle, whose last remaining habitat includes choice onshore oil and gas fields. This has made beetle protections a target for the oil and gas industry since the Beetle’s listing in 1989.

As the Washington Post reports, the scientists accused the Department of the Interior of misuse of scientific data, plagiarism, and disregard for scientists with real expertise in beetle science.

Doug Leasure, a scientist involved in authoring a crucial report on the beetle for the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), penned a letter to an administration official that described “poor quality scientific behavior and unethical processes” by the Department of the Interior. He calls the Fish and Wildlife Service’s work on the beetle study “opaque and misleading.”

Read the letter here:

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Research and analysis by Documented shows this latest attempt to remove protections for the beetle coincides with meetings between hydraulic fracturing industry lobbyists and top Interior officials.

Communications gathered from FOIA show a close working relationship between the Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA), a top lobbying group for the fracking industry, and Vincent DeVito, a former top aid and counselor on energy policy to Secretary Zinke. DeVito now works for an offshore drilling company. After IPAA complained about beetle protections, DeVito scheduled meetings with Fish and Wildlife Service head Greg Sheehan about the Beetle. Months later, Fish and Wildlife Service issued a public notice on their plan to downlist the beetle from endangered to threatened. This downlisting would allow the oil and gas industry to disturb more beetle habitat and kill more beetles than currently allowed.

IPAA has long been an enemy of the beetle, joining other anti-Endangered Species Act groups like the Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF) in suing the government to reduce beetle protections.

While DeVito seems to have played a role in pushing FWS to downlist the beetle, there are a number of top administration officials with close ties to IPAA and TPPF. Deputy Secretary David Bernhardt worked for IPAA on endangered species issues as a lawyer, and Assistant Secretary Doug Domenech was employed by TPPF, both holding these positions directly before joining Interior.

Meetings and Communications about the American Burying Beetle between Vincent DeVito and IPAA

8/3/17 IPAA and Vincent DeVito communicate on ABB, IPAA shares background information including cost breakout. The IPAA lobbyist also share her thoughts on the IPCC.

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8/4/17 IPAA asks DeVito for help with “beetle problem” on tribal lands in Oklahoma.

8/15/17 DeVito meets with FWS on American Burying Beetle (rescheduled)

8/17/17 DeVito meets with FWS head Greg Sheehan on "ABB"

6/30/18 Notice for downlisting Beetle published

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