During the Bush era, allegations of scientific misconduct rocked the Interior Department. Though Secretary Ken Salazar has vowed to clean up the mess, his selection for director of the National Park Service only compounds it. Jon Jarvis–whose nomination is poised for Senate approval today–has demonstrated contempt for truth, transparency and scientific integrity in his current role as head of the Pacific West regional office.
In an effort to expand wilderness in Point Reyes National Seashore, Jarvis’s subordinates misrepresented science to portray an oyster farm as an ecological menace. When locals challenged the accusation, Senator Dianne Feinstein stepped in, along with Jarvis’s boss, Mary Bomar. Jarvis was instructed to settle the dispute through an independent review; instead, he inflamed it. Since 2007 he has misled federal investigators, deceived the public and undermined scientific process to defend his subordinates’ wrongdoing.
Jarvis’s actions are punishable under federal laws governing scientific misconduct. In July an elected member of the National Academy of Sciences filed an official charge against him, yet Salazar turned a blind eye and the Interior Department’s inspector general refused to investigate (shunting a federal mandate to do so). If Congress approves Jarvis’s nomination without unraveling the regional director’s record, it will defeat the hope that in the Obama era science would be driven by facts–not by politics.
The record begins four years ago, when a local rancher purchased rights to cultivate oysters in Point Reyes National Seashore–a patchwork of beef and dairy ranches, marshes, moors and beaches north of San Francisco. Kevin Lunny set to work cleaning up Drakes Estero and turning the dilapidated oyster farm into a model “green” business.
Drakes Bay Oyster Company’s lease is up for renewal in 2012, but superintendent Don Neubacher–driven perhaps by a desire to streamline administration, perhaps by his ideological bent–wanted to convert the area to wilderness. Because the 1976 Point Reyes Wilderness Act protects the oyster farm–its authors stressed the need to balance agriculture, aquaculture and wilderness–a decision to terminate the lease would be deemed arbitrary or capricious. In order to make a persuasive case, Neubacher manufactured evidence of Lunny’s poor management. In May 2007 a Point Reyes National Seashore report claiming the oyster farm harmed seals, eelgrass and water quality was published online; at the same time, Neubacher and his chief scientist testified before the Marin County Board of Supervisors, claiming that recent changes in the oyster farm’s operation had caused the number of seal pups on a sandbar in Drakes Estero to decline by 80 percent. Under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, Lunny was an environmental criminal.