Interior Department Report Finds No Misconduct By Point Reyes National Seashore Staff In Review of Oyster Farm Impacts

National Park Service employees analyzing the impacts of an oyster farm on Point Reyes National Seashore "mishandled research" but did not engage in a criminal behavior or scientific misconduct, according to an Interior Department review of the matter.

The investigation, while clearing Park Service employees of any intentional wrongdoing, noted the matter possibly "contributed to an erosion of public confidence."

At issue is whether the Drakes Bay Oyster Co. operation in Drakes Estero is adversely impacting the estero and its marinelife, particularly harbor seals. The estero long has been viewed for designation as official wilderness, and the oyster operation is seen as being incompatible with such a designation.

A Park Service report on the oyster operation concluded that it was impacting harbor seals, but the report at times has withered under scrutiny.

Back in 2009 the National Research Council said the NPS report on the impacts of the oyster farm was skewed, "selectively" manipulated in several areas, and inconclusive overall.

"...the adverse or beneficial effects of oyster farming cannot be fully understood given the existing data and analyses," stated a news release from the council, which is an arm of the National Academies that also includes the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine. "Furthermore, the National Park Service report, Drakes Estero: A Sheltered Wilderness Estuary, in some instances selectively presented, over-interpreted, or misrepresented the available scientific information on DBOC (Drakes Bay Oyster Co.) operations by exaggerating the negative and overlooking potentially beneficial effects."

But the DOI investigation, instigated last November by a request to specifically look into whether Park Service personnel conducted scientific misconduct in putting together that report, found there was no "intent to defraud, deceive or mislead by 'manipulating research materials or changing or omitting data or results such that the research is not accurately represented in the research record.'"

The full 36-page report, prepared by Interior's Solicitor's Office, can be found here. (Note: It's a 10-meg file.)

This marks the fourth investigation into the conduct of the researchers at Point Reyes. Two previous probes were conducted by the Office of Inspector General, and, of course, there was the one by the National Research Council.

“The real story at Point Reyes is that Park Service scientists are being harassed by ceaseless probing for trying to do their jobs," said Jeff Ruch, executive director of Public Employees For Environmental Responsibility. "Thank goodness, this latest political assassination attempt failed, as well. “This new report is just latest in a transparent campaign of political water torture to pressure concessions to benefit a commercial concern at the expense of wildlife and wilderness.”

Point Reyes officials, meanwhile, are preparing an environmental impact statement on the oyster operation to help determine whether its lease will be extended beyond next year.

Comments

the basic data is flawed because the field investigators who gathered the data were biased during their training period to record/ atribute the varied disrurbances in the seal colony to man made occurances--harbor seals along the pt reyes coast seem to to have an increased incidence/awareness of humans activity and fear of interaction

This article is, like the Interior Solicitor's Office's report, very biased. A balanced article would include the comment from Senator Dianne Feinstein's letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar: "The National Park Service and the Department of the Interior have once again failed to grasp the severity of misconduct at Point Reyes National Seashore." Feinstein's letter continued, saying "It is critical" that the government "publicly disavow the practice of selectively misusing and misconstruing science to achieve a desired outcome."
The Solicitor's Office's investigation and report are essentially a whitewash, which further hurts the Park Service's credibility in this matter. PRNS selectively presented information, misrepresented facts and fudged data to support a predetermined political agenda. And an honest article would report both sides of the isse.

It's a pretty tough crowd when you point out how the NPS reporting was skewed and "selectively manipulated" and you still get criticized for not quoting a senator who is not exactly unbiased on the matter.

Sigh.

Here 's a blog on this report. Apparently the author of the report is sympathetic but still scathing to PORE's scientific advisor.
http://green.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/03/24/a-park-an-oyster-farm-and-science

And the AP wire story (I figure the version in the local paper will suffice):
http://www.marinij.com/tablehome/ci_17691301

Wow Kurt it sounds like the making of a good joke...

There was a scientist, a politician, a newspaper columnist, and an Judge that walk into a sandbar. Find some credibility.

As to the story itself, your headline matches Interior's press release, but it is not a fair characterization of the report. (It's a public document; you can find it online.)

The Frost Report does indeed find five NPS employees guilty of misconduct. It finds that they "violated NPS Code of Scientific and Scholarly Conduct" because they "knew about the camera research project" "yet failed to notify the informant [whistleblower Dr. Corey Goodman], DBOC, the NAS, and the NRC Committee" even though "this information was relevant, material, and necessary." Those quotes are from page 35 of the report.

The Park Service scientist who created the hidden-camera monitoring program was also found guilty of, among other things, "willingness to allow subjective beliefs and values to guide scientific conclusions" which "needlessly raised alarms and forced immediate reactions from DBOC and the informant [Goodman], who legitimately contested S1's [the scientist's] subjective conclusions, vague temporal and geographic references, and questionable mathematical calculations." That quote is from page 5 of the report.

The report does not find anyone guilty of criminal misconduct or scientific misconduct, based on very narrow definitions of those terms.

That's very different from a finding of no misconduct.

Clearly, when people make false statements, and are found to have had evidence that those statements are false, and to have suppressed that evidence, this is misconduct. Code or no code, it's wrong, and in this case there was a code and they broke it.

They said the oyster farm boats were harming the seals, and that is not true. They said they had evidence showing that, but that is not true. They secretly gathered photographic data -- time-and-date-stamped photos for every minute of every day for three years -- that proves no harm to seals, and to disturbance of seals, by oyster boats. And they failed to disclose that data, and indeed the very existence of that data, to the interested parties.

This will not be the end of this matter.

Just noticed that you have a link to the report. Good on you for that. My previous comment implies otherwise; I stand corrected.

Why do some of us cringe upon hearing the term "best available science" ?

It is not because we dislike scientists. We all have them as friends. The vast majority of them are admirable people. Their product, Science, has benefitted all of us for sure. The problem is in having sceince used against you in an erronious or deceitful manner. The trust is destroyed. So, it is important to realize that what may seem as a slight bending of the code to reach an objective can have far reaching consequences. Sad, it is, that some would go this route and blemish such an admirable segment of our society. How serious a law or policy did they break,if any ? Doesn't matter. Damage is done. Not only to the victim in this case, but to the society itself.

Ron (obxguys)

It's not anything new, Sara. What are the PR Specialists or others working under a Superintendent supposed to do? Tell the truth and lose their jobs or say what they have to keep receiving a check and further their careers? I recognized that early on, particularly with a Superintendent that ruined many careers to make way for his and his wife's golden handshake all the while painting lofty images of what the Sierra Club and others pass on as saving the environment from evil taxpayers. Sorry, just venting a bit. It's not all what it seems.

Just a follow up (after mentioning the place in another comment on food choices), but there have been several assorted editorials and articles in Bay Area newspapers commenting on the report.

Sen. Feinstein hits Drakes Bay oyster farm report
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2011/03/23/BAVH1II1E1.DTL

Marin Voice: Time to rebuild confidence in the park service
By Dianne Feinstein
Guest op-ed column
http://www.marinij.com/opinion/ci_17694127

Editorial: Oyster report reveals lapses by park service
http://www.marinij.com/opinion/ci_17746131