My Turn: Management or malpractice?

Posted: Sunday, May 07, 2006

T he U.S. Forest Service sets the bar high on everyone except itself.

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The notion, espoused by spokesman Dennis Neill ("Report: Flaws in Timber Sales," April 17), that the agency should (and will) act only on information that is peer-reviewed science is devious hogwash.

When serious claims of forest management problems are made, as by Sitka Conservation Society's new report, the allegations should be promptly investigated, not summarily dismissed.

If the Forest Service requires peer reviewed science for everything, its own deer habitat model is in deep trouble. This is a matter the Greenpeace has investigated in depth.

The current deer model was reviewed in 1995 by a Forest Service-convened panel of scientists in a day and a half session that the scientists thought was far too brief. They were frustrated with the process, did not endorse the model and preferred the previous model to this replacement. The official detailed notes of the session are clear on that.

The new model was adopted anyway and is still in use. Deviously, the Forest Service has commonly called it the "panel model" or "the interagency model." More than ironic, it is fraudulent that the model it replaced was the true interagency model.

Oddly, this current deer model operates on a forest characteristics data set that is unrelated to habitat quality - a fact later established in peer reviewed science, six years ago. The Forest Service ignores appeals that raise that fact.

Further, the Forest Service has been using the deer model incorrectly for the past decade, over-estimating by about one-third the capability of habitat to support deer. Accordingly, the impact of timber sales on deer hunting and wolf viability has been grossly underestimated. This has misled the public and other agencies.

In ignoring complaints about that error the Forest Service selectively relies on three inconclusive documents, refusing to consider any of the more substantial contrary evidence it is presented.

This problem goes right to the top, to Forest Supervisor Forrest Cole and Alaska Regional Forester Denny Bschor. Time after time they make the decisions and deny our appeals of them by evading the substantive facts that don't fit their policy.

The same scenario - that last August caused the ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to chastise the Forest Service's "fatally infected" decision making - is unfolding yet again. The agency had stubbornly refused to correct a 100 percent error in the timber demand projection that was driving its timber program. Now the Forest Service stubbornly refuses to correct its deer modeling.

For quite some time Greenpeace has bent over backwards to give the Forest Service the opportunity to correct, on its own initiative, those problems with its deer habitat modeling. We have acted behind the scenes, going beyond the normal commenting and appealing processes to try resolve the issues, but have met a stone wall. We know the science is on our side, and so does the Forest Service.

For the Forest Service, though, rigid policy trumps stewardship, science, fairness, public process, and caring for the land. What exists is not the "analysis paralysis" some Congressmen have claimed, but "analysis abstinence." Public resources are being treated like a fiefdom.

All of this is malpractice.

Mr. Neill's job apparently is to make such malpractice look good. That includes helping bury studies, like the one by Sitka Conservation Society's mentioned in the article, that will expose some truths.

• Larry Edwards is a Greenpeace forest campaigner and a resident of Sitka who has been researching aspects of the deer model for many years.

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