Report says Klamath panel erred

Daniel B. Wheeler dwheeler at
Sat Nov 16 03:17:04 EST 2002

>From The Oregonian, Nov. 14, 2002, p B9

Report says Klamath panel erred
Two OSU scientists criticize a national panel's finding that
withholding water from farms was unjustified

	A national science panel's finding that the 2001 federal decision to
withhold water from Klamath Basin farms was unjustified is laden with
errors and has mainly served to fuel resentment of environmental laws,
two Oregon State University researchers say.
	The science panel chose data selectively to support its rushed
conclusions, and in one instance its chairman referred to a species of
fish that does not exist in the Klamath Basin, the Oregon researchers
said in a paper submitted for publication in the journal Fisheries.
	"Politicians have assumed that (the review) has primacy in the
scientific debate, when in fact its speedy construction contributed to
multiple errors that detract from its scientific usefulness," say the
researchers, fisheries professor Douglas Markle and graduate student
Michael Cooperman.
	They are among the first outside scientists to scrutinize the work of
the panel formed by the National Research Council at Interior
Secretary Gale Norton's request after the Klamath Basin's bitter water
struggles of 2001.
	The researchers said it is wrong to treat the panel's findings as the
"definitive opinion for Klamath Basin water management," as federal
agencies have done. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation used the findings
to justify cutting back water for fish this year. That left less for
salmon, which later suffered a massive die-off in the Klamath River.
	The Oregon State paper has undergone peer review. Markle and
Cooperman declined to release it, but The Oregonian obtained a
pre-publication copy.
	One of the 12 members of the National Research Council panel said the
group would weight the Oregon researchers' criticism when compiling a
final Klamath Basin report, due out in January. "It's like everything
else; we'll read it, and we'll think about it," said Michael Pace of
the Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, N.Y.
	After three months of work, the national panel issued an interim
report early this year. The panel concluded there was no scientific
justification for last year's federal decision to hold water in Upper
Klamath Lake and the Klamath River for fish protected by the
Endangered Species Act. The federal move had left little water for
farms in the Klamath Project as they weathered a severe drought.
	Farmers and politicians welcomed the national panel's finding as
proof that cutting off water to farms was not based on "sound
science." They have used it nationally to argue for reform of the
Endangered Species Act.
	But Markle and Cooperman said the National Research Council group
looked for simple biological explanations that are rare in a complex
ecosystem such as the Klamath Basin. It also discarded competing
opinions that are routine within the science world, they said.
	"Unfortunately, the committee missed an opportunity to help the
public understand the process of science," they wrote. "Instead, its
staff, in a public forum, claimed infallibility in this debate, and
its chair, in a congressional forum, dismissed dissenting peer reviews
of their report as coming from people with 'obvious bias.'"
	The OSU researchers said "the primary impact has been to increase
resentment of resource laws and agencies."
	Their paper was submitted to the journal Fisheries about two months
ago an reviewed by seven anonymous scientists, who returned it with
comments and criticisms. Markle and Cooperman revised the paper to
address the comments and resubmitted it to the journal, where it is
awaiting publication, they said.
	The paper also has circulated among Klamath basin farmers. Last week,
Dan Keppen of the Klamath Water Users Association said the paper
"appears to be more a political assessment instead of an objective
look at the science."
	Markle and Cooperman cite a series of factual errors in the National
Research Council panel's conclusions, such as giving incorrect years
when water quality in Upper Klamath Lake was especially poor, using
faulty fish population models and selecting data that supported "a
conclusion they had already reached."
	Five months after the panel was formed, its chairman referred to
problems involving longnose suckers - a fish species that does not
exist in the Klamath Basin, they said.
	The scientific work of both federal agencies an the national panel
has shortcomings, the two researchers said, but neither should be
labeled "not sound science."

Posted as a courtesy by
Daniel B. Wheeler

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