09-19-13: WMC: DUPLICITY – NPS gives no warranty … as to accuracy, reliability, completeness of data”

 

What a ray of sunshine the new NPS seal-count data provides. The latest report tells us that 2013 has been a great year for seals, with one of the highest counts ever for seal pups, and more seals in Drakes Estero than anywhere else in Point Reyes. That should alleviate the fears of anyone who might have gotten the impression that seals could be in danger from Drakes Bay Oyster Company.

 

…the Park Service’s seal-count report includes a disclaimer, saying that the data and related graphics “are not legal documents and are not intended to be used as such” and “The National Park Service gives no warranty, expressed or  implied, as to the accuracy, reliability, or completeness of these data.” 

 

This disclaimer isn’t found on any previous science reports from the Park Service at Point Reyes.

 

 

 

 

Guest Column

Duplicity

 

By Sarah Rolph

 

What a ray of sunshine the new NPS seal-count data provides. The latest report tells us that 2013 has been a great year for seals, with one of the highest counts ever for seal pups, and more seals in Drakes Estero than anywhere else in Point Reyes. That should alleviate the fears of anyone who might have gotten the impression that seals could be in danger from Drakes Bay Oyster Company.

 

I was fascinated to see that the Park Service’s seal-count report includes a disclaimer, saying that the data and related graphics “are not legal documents and are not intended to be used as such” and “The National Park Service gives no warranty, expressed or  implied, as to the accuracy, reliability, or completeness of these data.”

 

This disclaimer isn’t found on any previous science reports from the Park Service at Point Reyes. I find it ironic that they would offer it now, given the clear deficiencies of many of their scientific efforts.

 

For example, the one paper the Park Service clings to as purported evidence claims that the oyster farm disturbs seals. The paper by Park Service scientist Ben Becker doesn’t even claim to find anything more than a correlation.

 

If there’s one thing most of us learn about science, it’s that correlation does not imply causation. Seems like the Park Service ought to have put a disclaimer on the Becker paper.

 

They should probably put a disclaimer on the Park Service’s Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), too, since its claims about oyster-farm disturbance to seals are based largely on Becker. The EIS downplays that, pretending it has been sources by saying “the impact analysis in the EIS places emphasis on the data review, analysis, and interpretation of scientists in NAS (2009) and MMC (2011b).”

 

NAS (2009)? Isn’t that the report by the National Academy of Sciences that found fault with the Park Service data? Indeed it is. Checking the EIS to see what data review, analysis, or interpretation they included from that NAS review, I found exactly one sentence, and it’s very misleading: “Factors influencing the behavior of harbor seals within Drakes Estero have been reviewed by NAS (2009).”

 

NAS did indeed review those factors.  Here’s what they found:

 

“NPS selectively presents harbor seal survey data in Drakes Estero and over-interprets the disturbance data which are incomplete and non-representative of the full spectrum of disturbance activities in the Estero.” And: “…research that has been conducted within Drakes Estero cannot be used either to directly demonstrate any effects of the oyster farm on harbor seals or to demonstrate the absence of potential effects.”

 

So given that the Becker paper casts no light on the situation, and that NAS (2009) simply points out the scientific errors of the NPS, on what basis could the EIS possibly have found “long-term moderate adverse impacts on harbor seals due to the continuation of commercial shellfish operations”?

 

The only other thing cited in the EIS is the MMC report. Does it contain the evidence?

 

Seven independent seal scientists conducted the scientific analysis for the MMC study. One can read their full verbatim reports in Appendix F of the report.

 

It’s eye opening to do so, none of the scientists found the Becker paper convincing. Instead they point out that the design of the Becker study is entirely inappropriate for the issues it attempts to explore, and that everything that is known about harbor seals suggests that the concerns expressed by NPS about mariculture disturbing seals in Drakes Estero are unfounded. (Somehow, the executive summary of the MMC report manages to suggest otherwise, though just barely. It also suggests the Park Service continue funding MMC studies of the issue.)

 

The scientists on both the Academy panel and the MMC panel pointed out that the best way to learn whether the oyster farm operations disturbed seals would be with time-and-date-stamped photographs.  It must have been a shock to later learn that the Park Service had been capturing exactly that data since May of 2007, but chose not to disclose it.

 

It certainly bothered Brian Kingzett. Kingzett is Deep Bay Marine Field Station Manager at the Center for Shellfish Research, Vancouver Island University, and one of the seven scientists who served on the MMC panel. Kingzett reports, “The panel even suggested to the Parks Staff while on site above the Estero how easy it would be to put wildlife cameras on the Estero to resolve some of the questions. Staff looked at us and agreed that maybe it was an option worth considering. And they had cameras up the whole time. We then spent the rest of the week discussing the lack of any good data.”

 

NPS has falsified the record to further its own agenda. The duplicity extends further:  Interior is talking out of both sides of its mouth, claiming Secretary Salazar’s decision against the oyster farm was not based on the fraudulent EIS. And NPS is using that same EIS to argue in court against the oyster farm.

 

If left unchecked, this out-of-control Federal agency will destroy the livelihoods of dozens of people and eliminate a popular, historic, successful, and benign oyster farm.

 

And it will damage the California economy. The EIS itself clearly states that eliminating the oyster farm “could result in long-term, major, adverse impacts on California’s shellfish market.”  That is a feature of the Park Service’s “preferred alternative.”

 

The scientific credibility of the Park Service at Point Reyes is in shreds. No disclaimer can save it.

 

 

 

HERE IS THE NPS DISCLAIMER FROM THEIR HARBOR SEAL MONITORING UPDATE(S) 2013 AT http://www.sfnps.org/download_product/4301/0

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4 Comments

  1. Is, as Rolph states, “The scientific credibility of the Park Service at Point Reyes” “in shreds” or is it Rolph’s own fact-checking skills, laziness or what?

    I ask because the folks over at Protect Our Shoreline News (a blog generally about Puget Sound issues) readily found six recent reports that directly contradict her assertion that
    “This disclaimer isn’t found on any previous science reports from the Park Service at Point Reyes.”

    They were even kind enough to include page numbers where we can readily find the disclaimer.

    Which science reports did Sarah Rolph look at? Or was that simply untrue?

    Here’s a link so you might see for yourself: http://protectourshorelinenews.blogspot.com/2013/09/national-park-service-disclaimer-on.html.

    I am, by the way, a fan of the Lunnys, their work and their oysters. I would love to see them stay. But I despise the blatantly manipulative, misleading vitriol that’s been thrown around by all parties to this mess. And this particular piece of Rolph’s should be outed for being the well-written but patently false piece that it is.

    Reply
    • I contacted Sarah Rolf about your statements. Here is her reply:

      Mr. Fisher is right about the sentence he quotes. It is an overstatement to say the disclaimer “isn’t found on any previous science reports from the Park Service at Point Reyes.” The history of the disclaimers remains to be fully researched. An accurate statement is: the 257-word-long disclaimer now found on every seasonal seal-count report was not on those seal-count reports until recently. I apologize for the error.

      All other facts in my piece are correct. The Park Service falsified the record. Interior is using that falsified record in court. There are no disclaimers on the two Becker papers or the EIS, and those documents are seriously fraudulent. For these reasons, I stand by my opinion that the scientific credibility of the Park Service at Point Reyes is—or at least, should be—in shreds.

      Reply

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