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.