PEER Strikes Out


February, 2007

The news reports were suitably horrifying: park rangers at Grand Canyon were under strict orders to dodge visitor questions about the canyon's geological history. Why? Because the theocratic Bush administration wanted it that way. Too many of Dubya's friends were upset by any suggestion that the earth might be more than 6,000 years old.

"In order to avoid offending religious fundamentalists, our National Park Service is under orders to suspend its belief in geology," stated Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) Executive Director Jeff Ruch. This denial of reality has extended far beyond the personal beliefs of park officials, affecting all employees and visitors. Employees of the park are not permitted to give an official estimate of the canyon's geological age, and are instead required to reply with "no comment" if posed with the question. (Emphasis added.)


Grand Canyon


The shocking news, this past December, made headlines quickly. Columnists shook their heads, letter-writers fumed, and even Doonesbury weighed in at this latest example of the Bushite tyranny in action. One more abuse of the Constitution by the gang of thugs that brought us the Patriot Act, chipped away at habeas corpus and used "signing statements" to ignore separation of powers. When's it going to end?

There's only one trouble: the horror story wasn't true. There was no gag order; rangers at Grand Canyon were giving out solid geological information to anyone who asked. The only concession made in recent years to the religious fundies was the presence of one book, with a creationist viewpoint, on sale among many others in the park bookstore... annoying, perhaps, but far from catastrophic.

Jeff Ruch and PEER were telling a great big fib.

And because the Bushites have done so many mind-bogglingly despotic things in the last six years, people were ready to swallow PEER's baloney.


When I first heard of PEER, back in the 1990s or so, it seemed to consist of a bunch of U.S. Forest Service employees concerned with their agency's spotty record toward environmental protection. The organization provided a way that workers from the Forest Service, and later on, other agencies, could help bring public scrutiny to bad decisions made by the agencies supposedly looking after our public resources. Sounded like a good idea to me; the Forest Service has long been far too cozy with Big Timber. I was pleased when the group began to show interest in National Park Service affairs, too; Lord knows, government employees with consciences, no matter what their uniform, need all the help they can get.

However, PEER changed focus over the years. Somewhere along the line it turned away from the original vision of an environmental watchdog, expressing the concerns of dedicated public servants. By the new millennium, PEER reconstituted itself as a pressure group, advocating a narrow and elitist view of the way our public lands should be managed. Public access counted for nothing, in their view; "recreation" was a dirty word. Historic preservation went out the window; in their view, parks should eradicate signs of human presence wherever it was found.


How did this happen? Perhaps because the composition of the group shifted. Inspection of PEER's web page these days shows a management staff consisting largely of veteran activists and litigators, with only a minority listing any background in public land management agencies.

In other words, PEER got hijacked- by the sort of people who don't mind embellishing a story if it gets better press than the truth.

When it came to the Grand Canyon story, it didn't take too long for people to realize that they'd been hoodwinked. My fellow flat-hat blogger, Ranger X, did a wonderful review of the unfolding meltdown of the PEER hoax- if you want the play-by-play, check his blog. A couple of columnists wrote angry, "I was had!" follow-ups, but mostly, of course, the story just faded away. Sensational charges make the front page; corrections are buried inside, if they appear at all. Plenty of people, I'm sure, still believe PEER's nonsense.

PEER's own follow-up press release on the affair eschewed any apology, and tried to pretend nothing amiss had taken place. Instead, Jeff Ruch and Co. just repeated some other, less-sensational complaints about Grand Canyon and hoped, apparently, that everyone would forget about that groundless "gag-order" accusation.


National Park circles were abuzz about the whole business, of course. First, there was the "Can you believe this latest Bush BS?" reaction, then the response from Grand Canyon people: "Wait a minute, everyone- this is crazy! It's just not true."

Once the truth got out, the natural reaction from most National Park people was, "Well, that's the last time I believe anything from PEER without checking it out for myself."

Most park folks, yes, but not me. PEER did not lose a drop of credibility with me over the Grand Canyon hoax, since I'd already seen them in action, and gotten a good look at their standards of accuracy.



"When you hear it from PEER,
check their sources, my dear".





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