Agenda-driven Science

A recent article in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, a journal of the Ecological Society of America, will be of interest to members of this blog. It’ll probably be controversial, too. I urge anyone expressing opinions, pro or con, to stick to factual, constructive criticism, and to avoid attacks of a personal nature on anyone involved, just as the authors seem to have done.

The article is: “The conundrum of agenda-driven science in conservation,” by M Zachariah Peery and eight other authors. The full text of this and a companion article is here:

The authors write that, “At this time, we believe advocacy by scientists is essential for environmental conservation and, indeed, humanity. It is difficult to envision the state of our environment had scientists failed to encourage policy makers and the public to address emerging conservation problems. Nevertheless, conservation scientists must avoid misusing the scientific process to promote specific conservation outcomes (Wilholt 2009); doing so erodes the credibility of science and can produce undesirable consequences (Thomas 1992; Mills 2000; Rohr and McCoy 2010). We consider intentionally engaging in activities outside of professional norms to promote desired outcomes, as part of either the production or dissemination of science, to constitute “agenda-driven science”. The issue of advocacy-related bias in conservation science merits renewed discussion because conservation conflicts in an increasingly polarized world might tempt some to engage in agenda-driven science to “win” a conflict (Redpath et al. 2015; Kareiva et al. 2018).”

In the companion article, “Agenda-driven science? The case of spotted owls and fire,” the authors use “Several studies from one research group (Lee, Bond, and Hanson)” – referred to as LBH – as a case study. LBH are Derek E. Lee, Monica Bond, and Chad Hanson. Hanson has been mentioned in numerous posts here; he is coauthor (with Dominick A. DellaSala), of The Ecological Importance of Mixed-Severity Fires: Nature’s Phoenix, and numerous articles and essays. Bond and Lee are frequent coauthors with Hansen.

The authors of “Agenda-driven science?” write:

“Certainly, advocacy in support of these positions could, in some cases, be justified because fuels treatments and salvage logging have the potential to be detrimental to owl habitat and forest ecosystems, respectively (Lindenmayer and Noss 2006; Ganey et al. 2017).”

So far, so good.

“However, as detailed below, it is our opinion that LBH appear to have engaged in six activities outside of professional norms in support of their advocacy that promote a narrative that high-severity wildfire does not threaten spotted owls. These apparent activities include: (i) mixing science and litigation without disclosing potential conflicts of interest; (ii) using social media (rather than peer-reviewed journals) to conduct critical scientific reviews of studies that do not support the findings of their own work; (iii) pressuring scientists and graduate students with different research findings to retract their papers or not publish their thesis findings; (iv) conducting erroneous analyses using data they did not collect and with which they were unfamiliar; (v) selectively using data that support their agendas; and (vi) making management recommendations beyond what is reasonably supported by scientific findings. Individually, we consider each of these activities to fall outside of scientific norms. Collectively, however, they may be symptomatic of agenda-driven science involving attempts to understate uncertainty and promote a narrative not fully supported by the scientific literature that aims to influence forest management.”

These weighty accusations are well documented in the peer-reviewed “Agenda-driven science?” article.

Questions for discussion:

1. Is this an unusual or perhaps unprecedented evaluation of a body of work (by LBH)?

2. Is it fair, valid criticism?

3. Are there other examples of authors whose “activities outside of professional norms” in natural resources subject areas?

4. What is to be done, if anything, when agenda-driven science crosses the line between advocacy and “activities outside of professional norms” of advocacy?

44 thoughts on “Agenda-driven Science”

  1. 4. What is to be done, if anything, when agenda-driven science crosses the line between advocacy and “activities outside of professional norms” of advocacy?

    Well they certainly shouldn’t be employed by public institutions or be allowed public funding of their work.

  2. See below for my answer to your question “Is it fair, valid criticism?” emailed to the article’s lead author on March 4. I’ve had no response.

    Professor Peery,

    I’ve no dog in your fight, but do have a longstanding interest in the spotted owl, its politics and biology.

    In “Mixing science and litigation without declaring potential conflicts of interest,” you point out that Dr. Hanson has a law degree (in addition to his science credentials) and claim his “legal arguments depend on (i) severe wildfire mostly being benign to spotted owls, regardless of scale and extent; and (ii) forest restoration activities posing the primary threat to this species, as he and his colleagues have suggested is the case in many publications.”

    However, Hanson makes no legal arguments in the case you cite (Earth Island Institute v. USFS), nor in any other spotted owl-related case I can find. The reason? He is not the attorney in any of these cases. Thus, whatever else he may be doing, he is not making legal argument. From my quick perusal of the cases, he appears to be testifying as a scientist. Having dual degrees, alone, does not discredit or impeach his scientific work or testimony.

    You also assert that Hanson’s participation as an expert witness in litigation should be disclosed in his scientific publications because being an expert witness creates a “conflict of interest.” Although I’m no scientist (for what it’s worth, my dad is, so I have some understanding of its behavioral norms), testifying as an expert in litigation that seeks to enforce public laws does not fall within any conflict-of-interest disclosure rules. In my 40 years of environmental advocacy, I have never seen a scientific publication that discloses a conflict-of-interest under these circumstances. Of course, Hanson’s scientific publications should reveal the source of his research funding.

    You also claim that Hanson is a “party” to these lawsuits. The only spotted owl-related case I could find in which Hanson is a party is Hanson v. United States Forest Serv., 138 F. Supp. 2d 1295 (2001), which precedes all of Hanson’s fire-related owl research. Although Hanson is a member of some of the plaintiff organizations, that does not make him a party to these cases. If it did, every time the Sierra Club brought suit, millions of its members would be parties to the case; obviously, they are not.

    In sum, when you write about matters outside your area of expertise, e.g., politics and law, some relevant peer review would be helpful.

    I look forward to your response.


    Andy Stahl

    PS: Please feel free to share this note with your co-authors.

  3. Steve, thanks so much for finding and posting! Unfortunately I couldn’t figure out how to get to the companion article from the Researchgate link, I even tried Google Scholar. Help!

    • Click on the link in the blog post, and scroll down on the page it goes to — both articles are there, but mixed in with another one or two unrelated ones. If anyone wants a PDF, let me know. [email protected]

  4. Folks, I posted a PDF with both articles by Peery et al at

    I also posted a review of the Hanson/DellaSala book, The Ecological Importance of Mixed-Severity Fires: Nature’s Phoenix, by Carolyn Sieg, a Research Plant Ecologist at the Rocky Mountain Research Station, from Forest Science, December 2016:

    Seig’s concluding paragraph:

    “In sum, the book falls short of providing a global perspective of the benefits of mixed- and high-severity burned areas. Further, scholars interested in a more objective book will be disappointed with the reliance on unpublished data and the omission or discrediting of information contrary to the authors’ perspectives in several of the chapters. However, the collection of case studies does provide (mostly United States) examples of the benefits of these early-seral habitats and also encourages a different perspective on potential management options besides the log-and-plant status quo. If, in the end, the book stimulates a deeper conversation about the ecological value of severely burned areas and potential ways to sustain those values, that would be a valuable contribution.”

  5. Did someone say “Agenda Driven ‘Science?'”

    Meet Tom Bonnicksen. Here are some snips:

    In 2006, a group of respected scientists issued a public statement condemning Bonnicksen’s political approach to science and his failure to reveal his conflicts of interest when discussing fire and forest issues. An article detailing the matter can be found in an October 21, 2006 article in the Los Angeles Times.

    “He’s always introduced as the leading expert on forest recovery, and he’s just not. There’s nothing in his record other than just talking and hand-waving,” said UCLA ecology professor Philip Rundel, one of several academics who issued an open letter to the media this week questioning Bonnicksen’s credentials.

    Also in 2006, the University of California sent Bonnicksen two “cease and desist” letters for falsely claiming to be affliated with UC Davis.


    In February, 2006, Dr. Tom Bonnicksen peppered the op-ed sections of numerous newspapers with an opinion piece claiming that “extremists are using hyperbole, unsubstantiated claims, and convenient myths to oppose” logging burned forests and “cite myths about the Yellowstone fires of 1988 to argue we should not restore burned forests.” He blames the National Park Service for the fires and comes close to calling the top fire ecologists in the country liars.

    What does Bonnicksen mean by “restoring forests?” He promotes logging the burned trees and planting new ones, primarily commercially valuable ones. One wonders how forests survived without us (see the impact of “Post-fire Logging” at the bottom of our Forest Fires page).

    When someone spends so much effort to promote an idea as Bonnicksen has, especially with inflammatory language, it is often helpful to consider their motivation and connections. Due to his economic and political interests, it is difficult to view Bonnicksen as the objective observer and expert that he portrays himself. Bonnicksen is on the advisory board for the following organizations:

    The Forest Foundation, a non-profit organization supported by the California Forest Products Commission. “The Forest Foundation strives to foster public understanding of the role forests play in the environmental and economic health of the state and the necessity of managing a portion of California’s private and public forests to provide wood products for a growing population” (from their website). According to public documents, Dr. Bonnicksen has been paid by the Forest Foundation to write opinion pieces in newspapers and to give presentations to promote land use policies favored by the logging industry ($57,387 in 2004 and $51,519 in 2005). He also offers consulting services regarding timber and vegetation management. Nothing wrong with any of this of course, but it should be taken into consideration when measuring an individual’s objectivity.

    National Center for Public Policy Research. “Firm in the belief that private owners are the best stewards of the environment, The National Center’s John P. McGovern M.D. Center for Environmental and Regulatory Affairs advocates private, free market solutions to today’s environmental challenges” (from their website). These are the same folks who said “There is no serious evidence than man-made global warming is taking place,” and that “There are many indications that carbon dioxide does not play a significant role in global warming.” – NCPPR website 4/04.

      • I don’t believe I followed this blog back then in 2013, but reading that entire post and the following back & forth bickering and debate from your link and reflecting on where the natural world is at presently with five years of mega-drought and over 150 million dead trees (just conifers), huge mega-wildfires gobbling up massive amounts of acreage since 2013 and an incredible amount of destruction of life and property and where have those beliefs from the past gotten us today ? Everything has changed so much, nothing behaves out there in the wild as it once did. Frankly speaking it’s because so many components have gone missing. Of course when a wetter than normal rainfall event comes along and triggers the so-called superbloom, convince your followers with pretty photographs that nature is still resilient and bounces back quickly. Convince them further to keep sending those donations in so we can keeping fighting the good fight. And that’s fine and good, except we see nature really isn’t able to fight back as it once did. Still the read from that link you provided was interesting with all those conflicting different ideas claiming to be settled science (for no other reason than your personal close circle of friends all believe it) being thrown out there and yet neither side today comes off the winner. Larry Harrel is right about one thing, both sides are motivated by a hunger for power and in the end nature still gets the shaft anyway no matter who claims victory on social media sites.

  6. Has anyone shown that Bonnicksen’s published, peer-reviewed papers are “agenda-driven science”? Or is he an outspoken advocate for forms of forest management that some people disagree with?

    FWIW, here’s a letter in his defense:

    October 2006

    Open Letter to the Media:

    We are appalled at the attack on Dr. Thomas Bonnicksen by four individuals who are attempting to silence debate. Their attack is a violation of professional standards of conduct in science: the free exchange of ideas and collegiality among scholars.

    Dr. Bonnicksen earned a Ph.D. in forest policy from the University of California at Berkeley and served as Department Head at Texas A&M University before being granted emeritus status in forest science in 2004. His research in forest science spans decades and has been published widely in peer-reviewed scientific journals, reports and books. His 2000 book, America’s Ancient Forests: From the Ice Age to the Age of Discovery, documents 18,000 years of forest history and has received many excellent book reviews. He has assisted community leaders throughout California using science in understanding forestry issues and addressing those issues.

    While we may agree or disagree with Dr. Bonnicksen’s views on any particular issue, we adamantly oppose any effort to stifle his contribution to the debate on proper management of our nation’s forests.


    Robert Becker, Ph.D.
    Professor & Director
    Strom Thurmond Institute of Government & Public Affairs
    Clemson University

    James Bowyer, Ph.D.
    Professor Emeritus
    Dept. of Bio Products & Bio Systems Engineering
    University of Minnesota
    Director Responsible Materials Program
    Dovetail Partners, Inc.

    John Helms, Ph.D.
    Professor Emeritus
    Dept. of Environmental Science, Policy & Management-Ecosystem Science
    UC Berkeley

    Robert G. Lee, Ph.D.
    College of Forest Resources, AR-10
    University of Washington

    Bill Libby, Ph.D.
    Professor Emeritus of Forest Genetics
    Dept. of Environmental Science, Policy & Management
    College of Natural Resources
    UC Berkeley

    William McKillop, Ph.D.
    Professor Emeritus of Forest Economics
    Dept. of Environmental Science, Policy & Management
    College of Natural Resources
    UC Berkeley

    Chadwick Dearing Oliver, Ph.D.
    Pinchot Professor of Forestry and Environmental Studies, and
    Director, Global Institute of Sustainable Forestry
    School of Forestry and Environmental Studies
    Yale University

    Scott E. Schlarbaum, Ph.D.
    James R. Cox Professor of Forest Genetics
    Department of Forestry, Wildlife & Fisheries
    Institute of Agriculture
    The University of Tennessee, Knoxville

    John Stuart, Ph.D.
    Professor of Dendrology and Fire Ecology
    Department of Forestry & Watershed Management
    California State University, Humboldt

    Gene Wood, Ph.D.
    Professor of Wildlife Ecology/Conservation
    Dept. of Forestry & Natural Resources
    Clemson University

  7. Let’s just say that I am quite amused by this posted article. In reading through much of the piece(s), I found myself nodding along with the examples.

    I have a rather personal experience of seeing this in action, involving Hanson. While working on the Power Fire Salvage projects (Eldorado NF), which involved Hanson directly, in litigation, my Sale Administration assignment was impacted. Hanson had lost his lower court case, and logging was happening throughout the summer and fall. I found a piece of of the burn that was being ‘sampled’ for live cambium. Hundreds of trees were hacked into, looking for live cambium. There were no flagging, plot centers or other indications of sampling protocols employed by the USFS. My guess was that Hanson needed more reasons to delay or stop the salvage projects, choosing to look for live cambium on potential salvage trees. Ironically, all of those hundreds of trees were sampled at dbh, instead of at (or near) ground level, THAT is a serious breach of sampling protocol, indicating ignorance… or possible deception. When I was there, nearly all of the sampled trees were dead. There is a very good chance that they were green, when sampled. Sampling at dbh should have yielded at least some live cambium. Sampling at ground level should yield more dead cambium.

    It would have been interesting to see the results of the data but, I’m guessing it didn’t support the desired conclusion.

  8. Many of us have been saying this about LBH for years and it applies to many others who have posted or whose work has been used to support opinions on our site that attempt to refute long established and broadly validated forest silviculture, plant physiology, wildfire and other forest related science like insect, disease, geology, hydrology, soils and their interactions.

    1) This level of condemnation certainly is uncommon in the scientific community.

    2) It is justified condemnation due to their egregious violations of the principles of scientific research used to propound theories and conclusions drawn from confounded oportunistic/cherry picked studies without statistically sound experimemental designs to address potentially confounding parameters.

    3) There are many examples of fear or ego driven emotional “grabbing at staws”. One would be the NSO guesswork science used to shut down sound forest management in our federal forests while ignoring contradicting evidence and without realizing that doing so would lead to greater acreage in national ashtrays. Another case is the blind rush to wind and solar power farms which do significant harm to wildlife (i.e. chopped up & fried bids as well as excessive in-ground electrical current killing cows & especially calves & etc. generated by wind & solar farms).
    Putting blinders on and charging full speed ahead may be ok for a gambler but not when our global environment is at stake & certainly not when significant contradictory evidence (long term & widely vetted science) is available for all to see who don’t have blinders on or are looking in more than one direction.

    4) Contrary to the desires of some, this is still a free country so, until the opposition locks down what can be said and where and when it can be said, both sides are free to set forth their opinions/facts. The public and those in power will pick a course. If it is the wrong course eventually the evidence to the contrary will force the pendulum to start to swing in the other direction (as i believe it already has). The pendulum always swings in both direction until it wears out and doesn’t swing at all or until an exogenous variable shoots it outside of it’s previously closed sustem/environment. I’d rather that the pendulum swing in a free country with freedom of speech than in a dictatorship or fascism or socialism. We are but arrogant travelers traveling through a wonderful cosmos driven either by God or by predetermined physical & chemical interactions. I’ve studied the histoical evidence and the evidence is for the God of Abraham. Humility and love for others, as much as it is up to you, is required. Then, when this life is done, the wonders of the cosmos will be ours to rejoice in for all eternity. Until then, we simply do our best but we can’t do our best unless we have freedom of speech with humility.

  9. Steve- your questions are really good. I could write a book on this.. but will try to stick to your questions.
    1. I would say that this is unusual and unprecedented. In my experience, scientists who disagree don’t engage with each other for the most part. It sounds like one group didn’t like LBH’s behavior because it was particularly egregious. But that identical behavior is par for the course in climate science, and in other environmental sciences- even though most scientific ethics clauses say “don’t do that”. This is the scientific community’s problem IMHO, it has professional practice/ethics statements but doesn’t choose to enforce them. I like that PJG et al. raised these questions.

    2. Scientists disagree and they don’t have a mechanism for resolving their differences. To me that is a structural problem. PJG et al. argue for keeping it within the “good old boy science” network by peer-reviewed back and forths in journals, even though they acknowledge the well-known problems with peer review. Not to speak of the problem of actually finding the back and forths for the public in journals that may not even be open access.

    I actually think that open review of scientific documents is a great idea, and excellent science education for the public. One thing that standard peer review leaves out is observations by practitioners in the same area. So many times, even on this site, we have seen people on the ground have information that can add to the study but otherwise there is no mechanism to do so. I don’t agree with the “circling the scientific wagons” approach of PJG et al.

    Of course, I think this shouldn’t be just name calling by one group against another on an advocacy site. I would offer this site as one place where scientists could have a civilized convo about why their results differ, informed by practitioners’ ideas.

    If you look at Table I, I’d say many scientists are on the scale somewhere not perfect. What really seems to have ticked PJG et al. are violations not of the “scientist to public” covenant (we are trying to be fair and objective in laying out our info), but rather the “scientist to scientist” covenant. Hassling grad students, using others’ data without attribution or permission, getting data via FOIA, and attacking others’ research outside the Good Old Boy science network violate scientist to scientist norms.

    4. The scientist to public problems could somewhat be handled by open online peer and not so peer review. It’s easy for me to report work for others, but I think a formal complaint to the relevant professional association (s) might be helpful for the scientist to scientist issues. The main problem with this is that the Science Establishment (outside of natural resources) tends to promote these kinds of behavior, not question them. So “we” would be an awkward island of good practice in an ocean of bad practice.

    • I think open reviews of scientific documents has merit, just as collaboration on USFS projects brings views and issue to the table that might not have been raised otherwise, but ultimately a rigorous peer-review process is and ought to continue to be a cornerstone of publishing the results of science. True, peer-review is imperfect, but there is no better way to validate scientific methods and findings.

  10. What if…

    The M Zachariah Peery et al. article is an unethical and wildly inaccurate personal attack on Dr. Derek E. Lee, Monica Bond, and Dr. Chad Hanson, led by Forest Service-funded scientists?

    • Ahh.. but it’s peer reviewed and published in a scientific journal, so it must be true? It seems like the only way to tell would be to take an objective group of people (or half potentially biased each way) and have them review the accusations and evidence and issue a determination. Back to the ethics committee of some scientific society. But why would we trust them? They might have an ulterior motive of protecting the reputation of science, so want to squash any airing of dirty laundry. So how to know?

      • >> but it’s peer reviewed and published in a scientific journal, so it must be true?

        In a perfect world, it would be. But peer review, as it is intended, is at least a formal check of methods and data, the last hurdle a paper must cross.

      • Sharon: – “Ahh.. but it’s peer reviewed and published in a scientific journal, so it must be true?”

        Almost often used like a faith-affirmation isn’t it ?

        Steve Wilent: – “In a perfect world, it would be.”

        Yup, but unfortunately we live in a far from perfect world and it’s getting worse.

  11. Whether the Peery et al articles are unethical is a question we ought to explore here. I don’t think it is unethical to challenge the methods and data of other scientists. What’s more, Peery et al did so via a peer-reviewed article in a reputable journal, supported by numerous references.

    Is it wildly inaccurate? Maybe, but Peery et al seem to have backed up their assertions with facts.

    Is it personal attack? It might be seen as such, but it also may have been an effort to highlight a case of agenda-driven science, which certainly isn’t unique to LBH. As Peery et al write, “conservation scientists must avoid misusing the scientific process to promote specific conservation outcomes (Wilholt 2009); doing so erodes the credibility of science and can produce undesirable consequences (Thomas 1992; Mills 2000; Rohr and McCoy 2010).”

  12. With clear signs of global environmental, ecological and economic collapse popping up daily (and in the middle of the a 6th mass extinction crisis, this one caused by human beings and our activities) it’s amazing, isn’t it, that a discussion of “agenda-based science” focuses on the scientific research of scientists who want to preserve ecosystems, threatened wildlife and biodiversity, and not those who seek to exploit it?

    As a student of history, I have to wonder what people in 100 years – or 500 or 1000 years – will think about this discussion and how it’s being framed.

      • * smirk * You don’t understand what a strawman argument is, do you Larry Harrell? That’s weird, since you make them…All. The. Time.

        However, I do agree that it’s always best to consider all realities affecting our forests.

        • You assume that everyone who doesn’t want what you (and people like Hanson) want must obviously desire rampant exploitation. You assume there are no moderate positions, ‘burning down’ whatever you think we are saying. It’s that same old idea of “If you aren’t with us, you’re against us”. No forester buys that poisoned snake oil, Matt.

    • Matt, you seem to be saying that “agenda-based science” — which in this case has been shown to be questionable — is acceptable, as long as the goals of the scientists are well-intended. I know you’d be the first in line to criticize “agenda-based science” that promoted clearcutting, salvage logging, and other practices you oppose.

      • Hi Steve, That may “seem” to be what I was saying…But what I said was:

        “With clear signs of global environmental, ecological and economic collapse popping up daily (and in the middle of the a 6th mass extinction crisis, this one caused by human beings and our activities) it’s amazing, isn’t it, that a discussion of “agenda-driven science” focuses on the scientific research of scientists who want to preserve ecosystems, threatened wildlife and biodiversity, and not those who seek to exploit it? As a student of history, I have to wonder what people in 100 years – or 500 or 1000 years – will think about this discussion and how it’s being framed.”

        So, Steve, I look forward to you and SAF highlighting – and calling out – the many clear examples of “agenda-driven science” coming from the logging, oil and gas, hard-rock mining and coal industries.

          • Just because you don’t like an answer, doesn’t mean it’s not an answer Steve.

            Will you and SAF start calling out, highlighting and opposing all the many clear examples of “agenda-driven science” coming from the logging, oil and gas, hard-rock mining and coal industries?

            Or, do you believe that the ends justify the means?

            P.S. I also don’t believe that “LBH” are ‘guilty’ of agenda-driven science.’

            • When scientists have concerns about the data, methods, and conclusions in the papers SAF publishes in its peer-reviewed journals, the Journal of Forestry and Forest Science, they may submit letters and sometimes longer responses pointing out or challenging them. As far as I know (I’m not an editor for these journals), letters or longer responses are peer-reviewed and often include references in support of the rebuttal. This is what Peery et al did with their paper, albeit for a body of papers rather than a single one. Maybe you should submit a letter in response to Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment and see if it passes their review process.

              • I’m not the scientist and it’s not my research, Steve.

                However, rest assured, the personal attack by Peery et al against independent scientists, Hanson, Lee, and Bond, is based entirely on demonstrable falsehoods, and Hanson et al have already submitted a strong rebuttal to the journal.

                FWIW: I’ve also heard that Peery et al acted contrary to long-standing scientific norms by personally attacking other scientists in a scientific journal, and the journal did not conduct even a bare minimum due diligence or fact checking, and never contacted Hanson et al before publishing this personal attack.

                Also, I was told that publicly funded scientists have refused to make their data available to Hanson, Lee and Bond, contrary to open science norms.

                I’m sure once the Hanson, Lee and Bond rebuttal is printed by the journal you’ll make it available to all of us here, Steve. So thanks in advance for doing that.

                • Matthew, I bet you’ll get to the LBH rebuttal before I do, so post it when you can. If you don’t, I will, to further the discussion.

                • But Matthew, they are not exactly “personal attacks”- they have raised questions as to whether LBH have violated professional norms (in the pursuit of policy goals). Like I said above, some of the things are a slippery slope- but not harassing grad students nor using data without permission.

                  • Sharon,

                    What’s the alleged circumstances of the alleged “harassing grad students?”

                    Oh wait, that’s right, Peery et al actually provide no basis for this claim.

                    It’s my understanding that Hanson et al politely and professionally requested that these government-funded scientists (not children, mind you) provide open scientific access to their spotted owl data, which were publicly funded and gathered on public lands, so that Hanson et al could independently verify their claims. That’s hardly “harassing” in any way, shape or form. In fact, it just seems like another unfounded personal attack from Peery et al, which lacks any evidence at all.

                    • Here’s a paragraph from Peery et al:

                      “Members of LBH and their funders apply pressure to scientists—including graduate students—that have found negative effects of severe wildfire on spotted owls to retract or not publish their scientific papers (eg GM Jones, pers comm; SA Eyes, pers comm). In their correspondence pressuring scientists to do so, members of LBH employ a “strategy of guilt”, arguing that results from these studies are being used by natural resource agencies to promote management actions deleterious to conservation of spotted owls, the implication being that the scientist (or graduate student) is contributing to further jeopardy to the owl.”

  13. Two examples of agenda-driven science:

    First, CORRIM is a research consortium that “conducts and manages research on the Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) research on the environmental impacts of production, use, and disposal of forest products.” It’s now cleansed from their website, but the previously-stated, now-hidden (agenda-driven) purpose of the organization is to “increase the market share” of wood products. This organization produces volumes of highly misleading science suggesting that wood products are a better place to store carbon than intact forests. They typically assume that wood products have a lower energy content than steel and concrete, so there is a carbon/climate benefit when wood products are substituted for alternatives. The error comes mainly from assuming that substitution effects are equal to the “theoretical maximum” value rather than the real value. See Beverly E. Law, Tara W. Hudiburg, Logan T. Berner, Jeffrey J. Kent, Polly C. Buotte, Mark E. Harmon. 2018. Land use strategies to mitigate climate change in carbon dense temperate forests. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Mar 2018, 201720064; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1720064115; and Sarah L. Shafer, Mark E. Harmon, Ronald P. Neilson, Rupert Seidl, Brad St. Clair, Andrew Yost 2011. Oregon Climate Assessment Report (OCAR) Chapter 5. The Potential Effects of Climate Change on Oregon’s Vegetation.

    Second, large numbers of academic papers (often from land grant universities and scientists funded by resource extraction agencies) recommend fuel reduction logging to save habitat from fire. This recommendation is typically based on modeling that shows that fire behavior is modified when fire is run through stands immediately after fuels are reduced. This assumes a 100% chance that fuels reduction interacts with fire during the brief period before fuels regrow, but in the real world, fuel treatments are highly unlikely to interact with fire, which means there are significant trade-offs that must be weighed (and rarely considered in the literature). For example: Roloff et al. (2012) conducted an assessment of fire risk for spotted owl habitat in a large landscape in SW Oregon and concluded that “active management is the best option” and “active management reduces fire hazard and provides better habitat conditions for spotted owls over the long term.” This study uses flawed assumptions to reach flawed conclusions. In particular, Roloff et al. (2012) “assumed that high hazard was likely to result in habitat loss; an outcome dependent on highly variable weather, climate, and fire factors.” Essentially, all complex forests favored by owls were assumed to be lost to fire. This is not a realistic assumption. In forests where stand replacing fire is relatively infrequent, including where fire is actively suppressed, fuel-rich forests can persist for long periods without stand replacing fire. If this were not the case, then older forests would be very rare and spotted owls would likely not exist in SW Oregon. The so-called “risk assessment” failed to account for the most critical factor of all — the actual frequency/probability of stand-replacing fire in a landscape where fires are being actively suppressed, so this paper should not be used to make policy or forest management decisions. Raphael et al (2013) state: “Roloff et al. 2012 analyzed a different fuel management strategy for the same area. In that paper they found that active management ‘was more favorable to spotted owl conservation…than no management.’ Although they used FlamMap, they did not actually burn up owl habitat with a landscape model. Instead they assumed that if 50% of the owl territory had crown fire potential then all of the territory would be lost to a fire. This assumption appears to overestimate loss of habitat to fire.” Principle Investigator: Dr. Martin G. Raphael. Project Title: Assessing the Compatibility of Fuel Treatments, Wildfire Risk, and Conservation of Northern Spotted Owl Habitats and Populations in the Eastern Cascades: A Multi-scale Analysis. JFSP 09-1-08-31 Final Report, Page 19.

  14. Second- I think everyone takes CORRIM with a grain of salt.

    As to the fire and owls biz, people have on- the- ground experience of burning owl habitat. The rest is simply assumptions and predictions which of course can differ from person to person or group to group. You have made an excellent case for joint open design and production of research on topics with policy relevance.

    In my experience, getting disagreeing scientists in a room with policy makers is more helpful for policy debates than thrust and counterthrust in scientific journals.

  15. I support FULL transparency and objectivity but, some people do not practice that. For example, when someone says “Our forests need larger and more intense wildfires”, did they not study what happens to California spotted owls, when their nesting habitats are destroyed? I see that their ideas that ‘owls need burned snags to survive’ has not been studied and peer-reviewed. These claims are clearly “agenda-driven”, and not supported by actual objective studies and science.

    • Well, since Earth Island Institute has trouble reading maps (Rim Fire, burning through private timber lands), I do not have any ‘faith’ that their research should be taken seriously. Either they are ignorant, or they are being deceptive ( or both!) in claiming clearcutting in salvage projects on Sierra Nevada Forest Service lands. In fact, the Stanislaus National Forest maps, available through purchase, clearly show a big block of 20,000+ acres of private lands right where their photograph shows clearcut salvage logging.

      How come the picture of logging and claims of clearcutting haven’t been ‘peer-reviewed’? You’d think that accuracy might be kinda important but….

      If those claims were, indeed, true, the claims surely would have been brought to court and included in the original case AND the appeal, which were lost in each court.

    • In LBH’s abstract, they write that Peery et al “advocate for their own agenda promoting commercial logging on federal lands in spotted owl habitat.” I do not see any such advocacy in Peery et al. In fact, they write that “fuels treatments and salvage logging have the potential to be detrimental to owl habitat and forest ecosystems, respectively.” It is LBH’s methods and practices that Peery et al are concerned with.


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