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Web Letter

I appreciate the excellent investigative reporting of Tess Elliot, editor of the Pt. Reyes Light. On the whole I find the Light to be comprehensive and progressive in its views.

Our Congressional representatives, Senator Feinstein, Senator Boxer and Representative Woolsey support the continuation of Lunny's Drake's Bay Oyster Company because the public overwhelmingly supports it and has turned to them for help to maintain this important source of uniquely pure quality food.

The Lunnys are well loved and respected in their community of West Marin and run a clean, green operation. The operation is not harmful to the environment. At this time when fishing is becoming more and more limited it is important to maintain this healthy, delicious source of food.

I consider myself an "environmentalist" and I can also appreciate the passion and commitment to habitat enhancement, but let's not throw out the baby with the bathwater.

What a wonderful thing it would be if these two interests could join forces and focus on other really threatening polluting activities. For instance, like the inundation of our environment with aerial spraying etc. of toxic chemical pesticides in agricultural and forested areas that is currently on the agenda of the USDA/CDFA eradication of the light brown apple moth program for next year.

Come on, folks--let's throw down the towel and pursue balanced resource use within a healthy habitat.

Eleanor Lyman

Bolinas, CA

Sep 22 2009 - 5:14pm

Web Letter

Tess Elliott's thoughtful piece on the lack of scientific integrity in the National Park Service raises a host of fundamental issues concerning federal policy on scientific misconduct, issues that Gordon Bennett of the Sierra Club obscures with his attacks on Elliott, the Editor of the Point Reyes Light newspaper and others who have raised questions about the abuse of science on this issue, including myself.

In 2007, as a biology professor and elected member of the National Academy of Sciences (yes, the one Bennett attacks in his letter), I was asked by the local Board of County Supervisors to take a look at the provocative scientific claims made by NPS officials against an oyster farm in Point Reyes National Seashore, and to help determine if they were right or wrong. I was stunned by what I discovered: there were no data to back up any of their allegations.

When these false claims came to light, Senator Dianne Feinstein became interested. She invited then-NPS Director Mary Bomar to meet with her and others (including me) in July 2007. Bomar publicly assigned responsibility for this situation to regional director Jon Jarvis, telling him to clean up the mess created by his subordinates. Bomar and Feinstein also instructed Jarvis to withdraw and correct the false claims made by the NPS and establish an independent review panel to investigate the flawed science.

Instead of correcting the facts as instructed by Feinstein and Bomar, Jarvis steadfastly defended the use of distorted science by his subordinates. Rather than investigating their scientific misconduct, Jarvis covered up their misdeeds, repeated their false claims and publicly asserted they had not misrepresented their own science, when he knew full well they had.

Last May, the National Academy of Sciences released the independent report that Feinstein and Bomar had requested. The report concluded that NPS "selectively presented, over-interpreted, or misrepresented the available scientific" data, and found no evidence that the oyster farm harmed the ecology of the estero. In a letter to Salazar, Feinstein wrote that she found the NPS misrepresentations "troubling and unacceptable."

A detailed case for scientific misconduct against Jarvis and his subordinates was given to Bomar in 2007. A subsequent twenty-one-point case was later given to the Secretary of the Interior in 2009. But nothing happened.

The Federal Policy on Research Misconduct, issued in 2000 by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, mandates the investigation of such cases. To this day, no one at Interior has seriously addressed the two-year-old allegations of scientific misconduct--no scientists have analyzed NPS data compared to NPS claims, and determined if federal laws were broken. Meanwhile, Jon Jarvis has been nominated to replace Mary Bomar.

Gordon Bennett would have your readers believe that the Department of the Interior Inspector General has properly investigated all of the many allegations of scientific misconduct against Jarvis and his subordinates. But that couldn't be further from the truth. Fact is, the IG sidestepped the issue completely.

The detailed case for scientific misconduct was submitted to the Inspector General in early July, but they only considered one narrow procedural issue and did not address any of the twenty-one counts of scientific misconduct. When asked why not, Assistant IG John Dupuy told me they had no scientists on staff and thus could not consider scientific misconduct. When asked where it should be submitted, Dupuy said to Secretary Salazar. When told that it had been submitted to him months ago, and Salazar had not responded, Dupuy said that perhaps it could be sent to the White House. In other words, we have a federal policy, but in Interior nobody is willing to enforce it.

Secretary Salazar promised to clean up the mess at Interior. To do so, Salazar needs to restore science to its rightful place. First, he should withdraw the nomination of Jarvis for director of the NPS, or put it on hold until Jarvis publicly and satisfactorily answers each of the allegations against him and his subordinates. Second, Salazar should establish an independent body of scientists where allegations of scientific misconduct at Interior can be brought and adjudicated.

President Obama has eloquently spoken of his goal to restore science to its rightful place, but in the Department of Interior, just the opposite is happening.

Corey S. Goodman

Marshall, CA

Sep 21 2009 - 11:52am

Web Letter

I was delighted to see Tess Elliott's piece on the scientific integrity outrage going on in Point Reyes. I too am a member of the National Academy of Sciences (no, not the one mentioned in the story), and I too have reviewed the Park Service's "evidence" about harm caused by the oyster farm. And I too have concluded that not only is the evidence misrepresented and misconstrued but the Park Services has over and over again compounded their errors with new ones.

I'm an environmental scientist--a proud one. I've been a member of the Sierra Club on and off over the years. I love Point Reyes, and I don't eat oysters. But the abuse of science by the Park Service, and the shocking embrace of this abuse by the Sierra Club--not to mention the further gross misrepresentations in the letter posted here by Gordon Bennett of the Sierra Club--are a painful embarrassment. My work on the integrity of science (documented online), addresses abuses of science of all kinds. But the Park Service, and Bennett, are adding new chapters, even after being called out by the National Academy of Sciences, local scientists and honest media.

Bennett, in his blind zeal to get rid of the oyster farm, goes even farther over the edge in his letter here: he libels the scientist who stood up to the Park Service (and was vindicated by the National Academy Report); he has the gall to pretend that the conclusions of that NAS somehow supports his position, when it rebukes and rejects the Park Service (and Sierra Club) claims; and he resorts to ad hominem attacks on the editor of the Point Reyes Light, which has had the nerve--the nerve--to point out that sometimes the good guys (if you believe in parks and the environment) go off the rails in the belief that the end (getting rid of the oyster farm no matter what) justifies the means (misrepresenting and misusing data).

It was wrong when the Bush administration made a laughing stock of science and fact. And it is wrong now.

Peter Gleick

Berkeley, CA

Sep 17 2009 - 6:03pm

Web Letter

Tess Elliot’s piece finally brings to national attention the ugly underbelly of Marin County’s environmental politics. But this is not merely a local issue; fully half of California’s shellfish aquaculture is at risk, and the questions underlying the Drakes Estero controversy underscore a philosophical schism in the National Park Service (NPS) that can be traced from its origins to the current tension between “preservationist” and “working landscape” visions of our diverse national parks. The question of what our parks are for, the place of humankind within the biosphere, and how we will or will not engage with our environment are matters that can no longer be ignored or regarded as merely academic; our survival as a species depends upon their rational and creative resolution.

Given the global ecological crisis in which we find ourselves, the directorship of the NPS must be filled by someone of deep ecological understanding and an impeccable commitment to transparency, public engagement and scientific integrity. As the Drakes Estero debacle has revealed, Jon Jarvis meets none of these criteria. On his watch, Western Region NPS employees have falsified data, lied to public officials and subverted the scientific process. This may well be the only sordid moment in Jarvis’ career, but it speaks loudly to his willingness to sacrifice truth in pursuit of ideology, precisely the kind of malfeasance the Obama administration has pledged to eschew.

The National Academy of Sciences has reviewed all available science on oyster production in Drakes Estero and concluded that there is none supporting a conclusion of negative ecological impact. Indeed, all alleged instances of harm to Drakes Estero caused by oyster production have been shown to be without scientific merit or blatantly false, including claims of harm to eel grass cover, which has doubled within the Estero over the past decade, and alleged impacts to harbor seals, a fraud which the NPS and Marin Sierra Club continue to promote, despite National Academy discrediting of the data used to manufacture that erroneous conclusion. Jon Jarvis, as enabler, apologist, author and promoter of such misrepresentations has shown himself worthy of censure, not promotion to a position where his disregard for scientific integrity will negatively impact the entire National Park system.

In 1976, the Sierra Club and every other environmental organization weighing in on the subject, supported continuation of the oyster farm as a pre-existing, non-conforming use within the area of Drakes Estero proposed for designation as potential wilderness. Today, in the face of devastated oceanic ecosystems and the destruction of the essential fish stocks our seas can no longer support, sustainably produced shellfish is an imperative for human survival. The discrepancy between impacts alleged by the NPS and the Marin Sierra Club, and the ecological reality of Drakes Estero is precisely the controversy Elliot so succinctly reports.

Jeffrey Creque

Petaluma, CA

Sep 17 2009 - 1:24pm

Web Letter

A note from the editors: Dr. Corey Goodman has claimed that some of the contents of Gordon Bennett's web letter were factually inaccurate. Based upon a preliminary investigation undertaken by The Nation, it appears that certain statements in the Bennett letter may not have been accurate; accordingly, The Nation has taken the letter down.

Wilderness... or model "green" oyster farm?

For the great majority of The Nation's readers and environmentalists in general the point is moot. Tess Elliot appears to be trying to use The Nation as a way to fight a truly local battle in which the environment wins, no matter what the outcome. Finally, the allegation that there would be "no hope" for the Obama administration's policies and legal initiatives to respect science and scientific integrity if Tess Elliot's issue is ignored is hopelessly shrill and windy. There are many administrations covering science and technology within the national government, and countless issues of concern on par with "green oyster farm" versus "wilderness." The integrity of the administration is hardly riding on this issue, and it is not clear why The Nation published this writing.

Seymour Friendly

Seattle, WA

Sep 15 2009 - 6:41pm

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