11-21-13 WMC Goodman Brief Details History of NPS False Science

Goodman Brief Details History of NPS False Science

By Sarah Rolph

Those who have closely followed the Drakes Bay Oyster Company (DBOC) controversy know that local scientist Dr. Corey Goodman became involved in April 2007 when Marin County Supervisor Steve Kinsey contacted Dr. Goodman, based upon his scientific credentials and experience in science and public policy, and asked him to analyze the National Park Service (NPS) science on Drakes Estero.

Kinsey then invited Dr. Goodman to testify as an independent scientist at the May 8, 2007 County hearing as to whether NPS data supported NPS claims. At the time, Dr. Goodman did not know Kevin Lunny, owner of Drakes Bay Oyster Company. Dr. Goodman’s analysis showed that NPS data did not support NPS claims, and he testified that NPS officials misrepresented their own data.

Goodman is passionate on the topic of scientific integrity. At the May 2007 meeting, he stated:

“I believe that public policy decisions can and should be informed by quality science. But this must be science conducted rigorously, without agendas or conflicts-of interest. The political process can be dangerously misled by bad or misused science. One of my greatest concerns when I see science being invoked in public policy debates is to make sure that it is good science and not pseudo-science or — even worse — a blatant misuse of science.”

The history of the DBOC controversy has shown these comments to be prescient. What has happened since 2007 has, sadly, been a blatant misuse of science.

Dr. Goodman’s Amicus brief supporting DBOC’s petition for en banc rehearing in the Ninth Circuit provides an excellent summary of this blatant misuse.

There is no scientific basis for the view—promulgated by the National Park Service (NPS) Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS)—that the oyster farm causes significant environmental harm to Drakes Estero.

“To this day,” the brief argues, “NPS and their supporters continue to recite a fictional narrative that they have evidence of environmental harm, when they have no such evidence.”

Goodman’s brief details the shocking history of false NPS claims. As the brief explains:

“The EIS is the latest chapter in a seven-year effort by NPS to claim the oyster farm causes environmental harm. Again and again, NPS issued papers, reports and testimony claiming the oyster farm harms the environment. Each time, NPS had to correct, revise, or retract its claims after being sharply criticized by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), the Department of the Interior’s Inspector General and Office of the Solicitor, or Congress. But each correction has proven to be a new opportunity for NPS to misrepresent the science on some new issue—be it eelgrass, sediments, fish, harbor seals, soundscape, and, most recently, a tunicate.

In the end, NPS spent millions of dollars searching for adverse environmental impacts that do not exist. It is difficult not to conclude that this pattern was intentional. It certainly was not harmless.”

The NPS EIS even claims that the oyster farm is bad for water quality.

In fact, the opposite is true: oysters, being filter-feeders, provide environmental benefits to the waters in which they live, which is why oyster restoration projects are under way globally. Just last week, on November 15, the San Francisco Chronicle featured on its front page an exciting update about the oyster restoration effort in San Francisco Bay (an effort made possible by the donation of DBOC oyster shells). (In case you missed it, that article is here: http://www.sfgate.com/science/article/2-million-oysters-in-bay-begin-restoration-effort-4984300.php)

The Ninth Circuit majority, having been misled by the NPS EIS, called removal of the oyster farm an “environmental conservation effort.” Unless NPS intends to remove the surrounding cattle ranches (which they publicly promise not to do), the prudent “environmental conservation effort” would be to allow the oysters to continue to filter and clarify the water, not to eliminate the oyster farm.

The false claims in the EIS were so outlandish that Congress expressed concern about “the validity of the science underlying the [Draft EIS]” and directed the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) to review it.

The NAS review pointed out that the EIS had it backwards—that the oysters are “beneficial” for the environment:  “… the committee determined that an alternate conclusion on the overall impact of DBOC operations could be reached, with the beneficial effects of shellfish filtration outweighing the adverse impacts from sediment disturbance and the low levels of contaminants generated by DBOC activities.”

The EIS review is not the first time the Academy was asked by Congress to review NPS science. The NAS was also asked to get involved in 2009. They convened a scientific panel, held a series of public meetings, and ultimately released its review on NPS’s claims on May 5, 2009. That NAS panel came to two major conclusions:

  • “[NPS] selectively presented, overinterpreted, or misrepresented the available scientific information on DBOC operations …”
  • “… there is a lack of strong scientific evidence that shellfish farming has major adverse ecological effects on Drakes Estero.”

Nevertheless, the NPS continued to press its false narrative.

The details are incredible. For example, a secret camera program was put in place to monitor oyster workers without their knowledge. Apparently NPS was hoping to find evidence for its claims that oyster boats disturb seals—the three years of data from the secret cameras instead proved the opposite. The Park Service had those photos analyzed by outside experts, and the seal expert who reviewed them found the same result. The Park Service had no other evidence for its claims about seals, so it took the astounding step of changing the report, claiming in the EIS that the review found disturbance to seals—the opposite of what was actually found.

Please read the brief to learn the full story of the Park Service’s malfeasance. You can find it here: http://cdn.ca9.uscourts.gov/datastore/general/2013/10/25/13-15227_Amicus_brief_by_Dr_Corey_Goodman.pdf

The Citizen welcomes your letters and essays on this brief, and on all the briefs profiled in this series. Send your comments to editor@westmarincitizen.com

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