November 7, 2006

Politics, Science and USFWS II: Stats, Essays and the USDA

In addition to the lists of organisms affected by the political leanings of MacDonald (see part I of this series), the Union of Concerned Scientists released regional summaries of the PEER surveys given, including selected essays (employees of USFWS were discouraged from filling out the surveys by officials from the Dept. of the Interior; over 30 percent of those who received surveys participated).

In the northeast:

Nearly three in four respondents (74%) reported cases where “commercial interests have inappropriately induced the reversal or withdrawal of scientific conclusions or decisions through political intervention,” giving the Northeast Region the dubious distinction of being the USFWS region with the largest concerns of inappropriate commercial intervention;

The Southwest (the response was almost identical in every region):

More than three-quarters (85%) felt the USFWS is not “acting effectively to maintain or enhance species and their habitats, so as to avoid possible listings under the Endangered Species Act.” And for those species already listed as threatened or endangered under the ESA, more than nine out of 10 (95%) did not regard the USFWS as effective in its efforts toward recovery of those listed species.

The Pacific:

More than four out of five scientists (81%) knew of cases “where U.S. Department of Interior political appointees have injected themselves” into agency scientific decisions. A majority also cited interventions by members of Congress and local officeholders;


More than three-fourths (78%) felt they could not “openly express...concerns about the biological needs of species and habitats without fear of retaliation” in public while well over one-third (41%) did not feel they could do so even inside the confines of the agency. Nearly half (48%) felt they are not allowed to do their jobs as scientists;

The essays echoed these frustrations:

(NE, R5)Having regional office and Washington office staff who have the courage and integrity to stand up to political pressure and commercial/business interests. It is at this level that scientific/biological determinations by field staff are not supported or are over-turned. Contrary to what the administration says – the issue is not peer review or failure to use “good science.” The “goodness” of our science is only questioned when it yields an answer that is in conflict with a commercial or political interest.

Some gave a simple solution:

Getting rid of Julie McDonald.

Reducing or eliminating interference from DOI political appointees (Craig Manson, etc.)
and their special assistants (especially Julie MacDonald).

As I stated before, I have heard these type of complaints before from a friend of mine that works for the USDA Forest Service.

She spent her early days fighting off the timber companies in the northwest, one of the many trying to preserve the old growth forests and the animals that thrived there. She cares about her job as a scientist, cares about the evidence, and most of all cares about our wild places.

A few years back she moved to DC to work in the USFS office there, doing more paperwork than fieldwork. Every time we got together she lamented the politics in the office, the heavy handed changes to the USFS since Bush was elected, and one of his appointees took over the USDA.

Corporate/political interests were weighed equally with the science, employees were being ignored, she was frustrated - not scared to speak out exactly, but she knew there would be repurcussions if she did.

My friend has gone on an indefinite hiatus since then.

I'm going to vote in a few hours, after my ecology class is over. I have spent some time going through the candidates, not just looking for a "D"; really taking a look at what each candidate plans to do about our environmental problems. As Jen said on the last post, today we can change the way our public officials handle science and the environment.

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