Friday, February 10, 2006

The Truth About Logging In This Universe

Maybe, in a parallel universe, I became a naturalist and ended up studying forest ecology.  As it happens, I live in this Universe, and I did not think I could get anyone to pay me to study forest ecology.  Maybe, in a parallel universe, I became a politician.  But I live in this Universe, and in this Universe, I dislike politics.  But I never realized just how much poolitics there is in forest ecology.  So if there is a parallel universe,  with a j7uy5 studying forest ecology, I sure hope there isn't so much politics in that one, too, because that j7uy5 would be pulling his hair out right now.

This all started last year, when a graduate student at Oregon State University (OSU) submitted a short paper to the journal, Science.  
Post-Wildfire Logging Hinders Regeneration and Increases Fire Risk
D. C. Donato,1* J. B. Fontaine,2 J. L. Campbell,1 W. D. Robinson,2 J. B. Kauffman,3 B. E. Law1

We present data from a study of early conifer regeneration and fuel loads after the 2002 Biscuit Fire, Oregon, USA, with and without postfire logging. Natural conifer regeneration was abundant after the high-severity fire. Postfire logging reduced median regeneration density by 71%, significantly increased downed woody fuels, and thus increased short-term fire risk. Additional reduction of fuels is necessary for effective mitigation of fire risk. Postfire logging can be counterproductive to the goals of forest regenration and fuel reduction.

1 Department of Forest Science, Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR 97331, USA.
2 Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR 97331, USA.
3 Institute of Pacific Islands Forestry, U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service, Pacific Southwest Research Station, 60 Nowelo Street, Hilo, HI 96720, USA.

* To whom correspondence should be addressed. E-mail: dan.donato{at}oregonstate.edu

Originally published in Science Express on 5 January 2006
Science 20 January 2006:
Vol. 311. no. 5759, p. 352
DOI: 10.1126/science.1122855
When the study was published, it genrated some interest in the mainstream media, and some among bloggers:
(Note that the fifth item there was picked up on Tangled Bank.)

But the intrigue actually started before the paper was even published.  As outlined in an article published on The Scientist, in turns out that some scientists -- including some faculty at OSU -- tried to get the publication supressed.  This was highly unusual, according to a senior editor at Science:
Wildfire logging debate heats up
Controversial Science paper lacked appropriate caveats, some forestry scientists say

[Published 27th January 2006 06:21 PM GMT]

Nine scientists wrote a letter to Science asking the journal to withhold a one-page article on the potential risks of post-wildfire logging, arguing the article was short on qualifiers and context. But some forestry scientists say they support the conclusions, and last week, the journal published the paper.  [...]

Science editors have never considered delaying publication of an article after it has passed peer review and been accepted, Science editor-in-chief Donald Kennedy told The Scientist in an E-mail. Kennedy said that he can recall only one other case where someone has requested publication delay of another group's paper and that "it is an unusual way for senior faculty members to behave, especially with respect to a graduate student."  [...]
"Unusual" way to behave, indeed.  Most faculty advisors would be thrilled if one of their students got a paper published in Science.  

Unfortunately, that is not the end of the story.  After the paper was published, the federal funding for the folks doing the research was pulled.  A Congressman was irritated by this, and asked for an investigation:
Lawmaker Seeks Probe of Logging Study
By JEFF BARNARD , 02.07.2006, 06:12 PM

Questioning whether the Bush administration is manipulating science for political ends, Rep. Jay Inslee, D-Wash., called Tuesday for an inspector general's investigation into why federal funding was suspended for a study that goes against White House-supported legislation to speed up logging after wildfires on national forests.

In a letter and a speech on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives, Inslee called for an investigation by the inspector general of the U.S. Department of Interior into whether the U.S. Bureau of Land Management was punishing researchers from Oregon State University for coming up with findings that don't fit with White House policy goals.

"Unfortunately, it's very apparent to most neutral observers that under this administration in a variety of ways that the scientific process has been corrupted by political influence," Inslee said in a telephone interview. "We saw that when the administration and their political forces tried to shackle distribution of information by the chief climate scientist in the United States, Dr. James Hansen, two weeks ago." [...]
Mr. Inslee must have been on to something.  In fact, just one day after he asked for an investigation, the funding was restored.
Agency Restores Funding for Logging Study
Associated Press Writer

February 8, 2006, 11:09 PM EST

GRANTS PASS, Ore. -- A federal agency restored funding Wednesday for a study that has provided evidence for conservationists opposing the Bush administration's policy of logging after wildfires.

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management's decision to lift its suspension of the final year of a three-year grant to Oregon State University came a day after a congressman called for an investigation of the funding cutoff.

Rep. Jay Inslee, D-Wash., had asked the Interior Department's inspector general to examine whether the bureau was punishing the researchers for their findings. [...]

"The key to effective censorship is to make sure no one's looking, and this time everyone was watching," said Andy Stahl, director of the Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics, an environmental group in Eugene.
So all's well that ends well?  Not exactly.  This is not over, and will not be over until there is a sensible occupant in the White House.  Personally, I hope that Inslee continues to press for an investigation.  The whole thing stinks of cronyism and corruption.  We need to find out who was pulling strings to get the funding cut, and why.  If this turns out to be the way it appears to be, it would mean that someone in the Administration was yielding to pressure from industry groups, in a manner inconsistent with the public interest.  That is corruption, and if that is what happened, we need to stop it from happening again.  The culture of corruption has gone too far.  The only way to put an end to it is to find the individuals who are responsible for each instance, and put them out of government service.

I would like to think that graduate students doing innocent research would not have to be bothered by this kind of thing.  But we have a government that knows no boundaries when it comes to meddling in other people's business for the sake of industry profits.  

Although, to be fair and balanced, I have learned that there is no career that is insulated from political influence, and none ever has been.  Imagine, I once thought that going into medicine would keep me safe from meddling politicians.  Now, I laugh at that quaint notion.  And now, I wonder if I could get some federal funding to go looking for one of those parallel universes.

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