Junk science hunting

October 18, 2013

Garfield County

greater sage grouse photo

Greater sage grouse hunting is not allowed in Garfield County. But don’t tell the BOCC. They’re off on an expensive sage grouse hunting expedition.

Garfield County ups ante to influence sage grouse study

GLENWOOD SPRINGS — Garfield County is prepared to spend more than $200,000 this year to build a case that the science being used by the federal government aimed at protecting the greater sage grouse is flawed.

County commissioners on Monday voted unanimously to increase by $72,320 the various contract amounts being paid to four consulting groups that are working on an analysis and alternative mapping related to the ongoing federal study.

Included is an additional $15,000 to be paid to the Texas-based American Stewards of Liberty, for a total amount of up to $39,800, to help steer the county through the regulatory review process.

The county is also paying up to $45,000 to Nederland-based wildlife biologist Rob Ramey to do an independent scientific review of the study, and is contracted with two habitat mapping consultants.

All totaled, the bill could come to more than $212,000 for the county to develop a scientific counter-argument.

Wow. That’s a lot of numbers to sort out. Well I have some more numbers for you.

Did you know that Garfield County is one of the 25 largest counties in Colorado? According to the Colorado Children’s Campaign Kids Count, among those 25 counties, Garfield County ranks 16th in the Child Well-Being Index.

  • Child Population (2011) — 15,138
  • 4th Graders Not Proficient in Reading (2012) — 36%
  • Child Poverty Rate (2011) — 14.9%
  • Uninsured Children, 0-18 (2011) — 19.1%
  • Eligible for Free/Reduced Price Lunch (2012-13) — 46%
  • Graduation Rate (2012) — 75%

In a recent PI article, Jenny Lindsay, executive director of the Roaring Fork Family Resource Centers, was quoted as saying:  “In elementary and middle schools in the Roaring Fork Re-1 School District, 51 percent of the kids are eligible for free or reduced [price] lunch. In answer to your question of need, there you go.”

Evidently 16th place is good enough for the BOCC, because instead of investing in our children, they are spending $8.3 million on road improvements and more than $212,000 on sage grouse. Because the oil & gas industry is a whole lot more important than our kids, as explained further in the article –

County Commissioner Tom Jankovsky said it’s money well spent, given the potential loss of natural gas industry-related tax revenues and mineral lease dollars, should the sage grouse become listed as endangered.

“These (consulting) contracts do represent substantial amounts of money,” he acknowledged …

… Ultimately, the goal of the county is to make sure the science being used by the federal government in preparing the sage grouse study, including the area that can reasonably be identified as sage grouse habitat, is sound.

“Garfield County is being looked at to develop a model that other affected counties can use,” Jarman said [Fred Jarman, Garfield County’s director of community development]. “The approach being used by the BLM will have an enormous impact, and it’s important that it not be based on bad science.”

Oops – my mistake. I thought they were hunting sage grouse. Instead it’s the “bad science” they’re after. I wasn’t exactly sure what Jarman meant by “bad science,” so I googled it. Turns out that bad science is the kind of science that says nuclear energy, irradiated food, fluoridated water, and DDT are bad for you. And anything related to global warming is bad science, too.

In other words, they’re on the road to nowhere.

Bad science is also synonymous with junk science in some circles, especially in reference to studies that advocate a pro-regulatory stance toward corporations.

So, the BOCC will pay $39,800 to American Stewards of Liberty and $45,000 to Rob Ramey, which adds up to $84,800. Not $212,000. Let’s hope the BOCC is better at tracking down bad science than they are at bad math.

American Stewards logoWhat is the American Stewards of Liberty?

American Stewards of Liberty is a non-profit, private property rights organization (consulting firm) which operates under the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Read more here.

After I posted that in July 2012, ASL Executive Director Margaret Byfield told the Post Independent, “We have no connection to ALEC, and are not a corporate lobbying group.”

BTW, Margaret is married to Dan Byfield. He’s the CEO of American Stewards of Liberty.

I don’t believe the ASL is not connected to ALEC but it doesn’t really matter. Instead you should read what her husband wrote in Ranch & Rural Living Magazine last May:  Verify the Science

In his screed, Byfield brags about how last year the ASL worked with eight counties and the Permian Basin Petroleum Association to stop the US Fish & Wildlife Service from listing the dunes sagebrush lizard as an endangered species. They really stuck it to the federal government.

The FWS decision not to list the lizard relied heavily on what became known as the Texas Conservation Plan, which was supposed to be a commitment toward voluntary lizard conservation between private landowners and the Texas Comptroller. Except the Texas Comptroller quickly hired the Texas Habitat Conservation Foundation to implement the plan, and the foundation’s board is made up of lobbyists for the Texas Oil and Gas Association.

Under much scrutiny during the past year, the Texas Conservation Plan has come up short. When the Defenders of Wildlife investigated the plan, Endangered Species Policy Advisor Ya-Wei Li said, “When we launched our investigation into the management of dunes sagebrush lizard habitat in Texas, we could never have predicted the extent to which it was being mishandled.” Read all about it here.

See what we have to look forward to? Just imagine what the BOCC and COGCC can do to torture the greater sage grouse.

rob rameyWho is Rob Ramey?

Of course the BOCC has to have a guide on this colossal hunting expedition. And who better than Dr. Rob Ramey?

Ramey is a self-described “independent” wildlife biologist who founded Wildlife Science International, Inc. He also serves as an advisor to the Center for Environmental Science, Accuracy, & Reliability (CESAR).

There is much you need to know about Rob Ramey but first let’s dispense with the “independent” adjective.

In 2011, the BLM released A Report on National Greater Sage-Grouse Conservation Measures. The 74-page report found, among other things:

There is strong evidence from the literature to support that surface-disturbing energy or mineral development within priority sage-grouse habitats is not consistent with a goal to maintain or increase populations or distribution. None of the published science reports a positive influence of development on sage-grouse populations or habitats. Breeding populations are severely reduced at well pad densities commonly permitted (Holloran 2005, Walker et al.2007a). Magnitude of losses varies from one field to another, but findings suggest that impacts are universally negative and typically severe.

Naturally this set the industry’s hair on fire. So the Western Energy Alliance (WEA) hired Ramey to review the BLM report. His review, dated September 19, 2013, [begins on page 14] shredded the science in the BLM report.

WEA also hired Ramey in 2012 to review the US Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) recommendation to create Core Conservation Areas in the Uintah Basin in order to protect the hookless cactus.

I would hardly describe him as “independent” with such a cozy relationship with WEA.

Ramey is fond of calling research conducted by BLM and FWS on behalf of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) “junk science,” which is what I think Jarman meant when he said it’s important that the BLM greater sage-grouse study “not be based on bad science.”

From polar bears to bighorn sheep to the Preble’s meadow jumping mouse, Ramey’s own research findings have always come down on the side of industry and developers. His playbook consists of attacking government researchers and their methodology, a habit which has caused many in the scientific and environmental communities to carefully scrutinize his research.

And that close examination of Ramey’s research data over the years has revealed a philosophical bias which is best described in his own words from a special comment he wrote in the Financial Post in 2011, with his research partner Laura MacAlister Brown:  “[F]ew people are willing to admit that for some species (e.g. Pleistocene relicts) stopping extinction is on par with attempting to halt continental drift. Extinction is both a human-caused and a natural process.”

In other words, Ramey doesn’t think species extinction is such a bad thing.

But wait — there’s more …

Is It or Isn’t It (Just Another Mouse)?
Why science alone will not settle the West’s endangered species dilemmas

This 2006 High Country News story chronicles Ramey’s four-year battle with USFWS to have the Preble’s meadow jumping mouse delisted as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act. He was ultimately unsuccessful because his research set out to prove that the Preble’s mouse was not a distinct subspecies, and therefore not entitled to ESA protection.

When Ramey went public with his study in December of 2003, the crowd on both sides of the ballpark went berserk. The state of Wyoming, which had funded Ramey’s work, wasted no time filing a petition to remove the Preble’s mouse from the threatened species list …

… Politicians seized on Ramey’s work as proof that the Endangered Species Act was protecting a mouse that had never existed in the first place. Senator Wayne Allard, R-Colo., called for the creature’s immediate delisting. House Representative Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., introduced a bill that would have delisted the Preble’s mouse and forbidden it from receiving any future Endangered Species Act protection.

Meanwhile, environmental groups pointed to delisting efforts as evidence of political tampering with science — accusations that grew more shrill when Ramey signed on as a consultant for the Interior Department, and testified before Congress in favor of Endangered Species Act reform …

… When the Fish and Wildlife Service asked 14 scientists to review Ramey’s report and verify his conclusions, their results did little to quell the debate.

Geneticist Keith Crandall of Brigham Young University was thoroughly convinced by Ramey’s argument, calling his conclusion “robust” and “strongly supported by all forms of data examined.” Others, such as Gary White of Colorado State University, felt that Ramey’s work was insufficient to overturn a long-standing subspecies classification. Ramey’s conclusions, White wrote in his review, “are an example of basic statistical misinterpretation.”

What everyone did seem to agree on, however, was the need for a more definitive answer. So the Fish and Wildlife Service commissioned U.S. Geological Survey geneticist Tim King to conduct an independent genetic analysis of the Preble’s and several other meadow jumping mouse subspecies …

… King’s backers argued that Ramey failed to gather enough data to test his criteria, which they called unduly strict. “The King study literally quadrupled the amount of genetic data and found clear separations between all five subspecies,” said Sylvia Fallon, a conservation genetics fellow at the Natural Resources Defense Council in Washington, D.C. “Ramey and King aren’t arguing over where to draw the line. Ramey’s study failed to find any lines to draw because he didn’t have enough information.”

Ramey’s critics also questioned his interpretation of his results. “Ramey set a very, very high bar,” said Wayne Spencer, a biologist at the Conservation Biology Institute in San Diego, who, at the request of the Fish and Wildlife Service, reviewed both papers. “The genetic tests (Ramey) used don’t even show differences between valid species, like between polar bears versus grizzlies,” he said.

King added fuel to the fire this June [2006], when he submitted a paper for publication in the journal Molecular Ecology revealing that he tried, and failed, to replicate some of Ramey’s genetic data. In dispute are seven Bear Lodge mouse museum specimens that, in Ramey’s study, turned up mitochondrial DNA sequences also found in Preble’s mouse specimens. King’s work showed that none of these seven specimens contained the Preble’s sequences. What’s more, King turned up discrepancies in more than a dozen nuclear DNA sequences from Ramey’s museum specimens, which, King said, suggested a systematic error in Ramey’s methods …

A 2006 OnEarth Magazine article about the Preble’s mouse controversy, described Ramey’s research this way:

… [M]any scientists who subsequently reviewed Ramey’s study saw serious flaws. They suggested that Ramey had misinterpreted his data and that his DNA samples, which came from long-dead skins stored in museums, might have been contaminated or too old to be reliable. James Patton, curator of mammals at the University of California-Berkeley’s Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, says, “When you’re trying to go after degraded DNA from museum specimens, it requires very careful control.” Andrew Martin, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Colorado, agrees: “Ramey’s study was hasty, his data suspect, and his interpretation of results biased” …

Most recently, on August 1, 2013, Dr. Ramey testified before the House Committee on Resources and outlined his criticisms of USFWS studies on behalf of the ESA. Read his testimony here.

Now, back to the species currently under the microscope — the greater sage grouse. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service plan is to wait until 2015 to make a final decision to place the greater sage grouse on the endangered species list.

Until then, good hunting.

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8 Comments on “Junk science hunting”

  1. Leslie Robinson Says:

    Excellent investigative reporting. Let’s see what these organizations and/or their 501c4 “relatives” do during election years.

  2. anita sherman Says:

    Commissioners prove that some “monkeys” didn’t evolve in this industry neo-con 21st Century “Monkey Trial”. In order to claim the science is junk, one has to have a baseline. Unless, ASL has information that disqualifies current information, their assertions are speculative. In fact, their only baseline resorts to religious connotations of science as fact based on “the Bible”. American Stewards of Liberty are certainly fond of quoting the Bible.

    I don’t care what a crazy religion a person belongs to, or believes, as an individual. Heck, if our own Mormon Bishop commissioner, Mike Samson believes magic underwear works for him, I say, “Whatever blows sunshine up your briefs.” However, using public funds to promote your beliefs – religious or economic – crosses into the category of misappropriating county funds. At the very least it crosses the line of separating church and state, and is as transparent as the convenient Christian-Corporate relationship that believes in “do as I say, not as I do” public policy squandering our tax dollars. Again, where’s the ballot vote by the residents of Garfield saying they want to use local funds to challenge federal laws based on Bible science?

  3. Peggy Tibbetts Says:

    As usual you are right on Anita.

    Thanks Leslie.

    I think we should all hope the BOCC doesn’t hire Dr. Ramey to study the human population in West GarCo. He would surely recommend extinction.

  4. Dawn Dexter Says:

    Thank you for your tireless work on behalf of the population, both human and non-human, of Garfield County. I know it’s sometimes thankless work, but I, for one, am grateful.

  5. Peggy Tibbetts Says:

    It’s like this Dawn. I have an overactive BS detector. When it goes off I can’t stop digging until I get to the bottom and then I have to share what I found. I can’t keep it to myself.

    I mean who does the BOCC think they’re kidding?

  6. Beth Strudley Says:

    Thank you Peggy, you’re awesome!

  7. Gretchen King Says:

    The original High Country News article can be found here:
    http://www.hcn.org/issues/327/16445

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. More Grandstanding in Garfield County | Western Values Project - April 9, 2014

    […] an interesting take, but one not grounded in reality. In fact, Dr. Ramey consistently finds himself lambasting any science other than his own, which is probably why he’s been routinely hired by industry associations to […]

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