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Will DFG science institute include all of the science?
by Dan Bacher
Monday Jun 18th, 2012 6:44 PM
The Yurok Tribe said it has attempted on numerous occasions to address the scientific inadequacies with the MLPA science developed under the Schwarzenegger administration by adding "more robust protocols" into the equation, but was denied every time. This denial of consideration of the Tribe's scientific data flies in the face of false claims by MLPA advocates that the privately funded initiative creates "Yosemites of the Sea" and "underwater parks" based on "science."

Members of the Yurok and other North Coast Indian Tribes and their allies took control of the MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Force meeting in Fort Bragg on July 21, 2010. Photo by Matt Mais, Yurok Tribe.
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Will DFG science institute include all of the science?

by Dan Bacher

The California Department of Fish and Game (DFG) on June 16 publicly announced the first phase of its new "Science Institute," available for viewing at http://www.dfg.ca.gov/Science.

The question is: will the so-called "Science Institute" include all of the science, including studies compiled by the Yurok Tribe and others disputing the false assumptions and questionable data behind the so-called "marine protected areas" created under the controversial Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative?

Or will there be a continued disregard for any science that conflicts with the controversial "science" behind processes like the MLPA?

“This website is the first part of a multi-phase approach intended to highlight the exceptional work that DFG scientists have been doing for many, many years and support our scientific future,” said Charlton H. Bonham, Director of DFG. “Our goal is that this Institute will help develop our current scientists professionally, by increasing skills, resources, collaboration and notoriety, as well as attract new scientists to help us plan for the years ahead.”

Bonham said the website launch is "phase one" of the Institute. Future phases will include an archive of scientific presentations, professional development tools, better access for DFG scientists to outside science and scientific literature, a science symposium and much more.

The new DFG website proclaims, "At DFG, sound science is a crucial foundation for the day-to-day work we do to maintain California's fish, wildlife and natural communities. Reflecting the diverse natural resources of our State, science in DFG spans numerous disciplines, species, habitats, and geographic areas. It also involves many collaborators, including universities, non-profit organizations, and other agencies. DFG's Science Institute is part of a new initiative to expand and enhance our scientific capacity and to provide the public with opportunities to see and learn about the important science we do in support of the mission of DFG."

Director Bonham prepared a video message for this website launch that can be viewed at http://youtu.be/S2Injj4sWx8.

In my opinion, consolidating science into one location on the DFG's new "Science Institute" website sounds like a good idea. The question is how comprehensive and inclusive the scientific studies and data featured will be, considering that much of the "science" currently touted on the DFG website is often lacking in its "soundness," particularly in reference to data compiled regarding the MLPA Initiative.

Tribe questions "terminally flawed" MLPA Initiative "science"

On June 6 before the California Fish and Game Commission voted to approve a network of so-called "marine protected areas" for the North Coast, the Yurok Tribe issued a statement outlining several serious concerns with the final proposal. These included questions about the so-called "science" used under the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative to create the MPAs and concerns over the protection of tribal harvesting rights at Reading Rock and False Klamath.

“While we appreciate the Brown administration’s support and the Fish and Game Commission effort to recognize tribal traditional harvesting rights, there is more that needs to be done in order to protect our culture and our resources for present and future generations,” said Yurok Tribal Chairman Thomas P. O’Rourke Sr. prior to the meeting. “We also have serious questions about the science, developed under the Schwarzenegger Administration, which the process relies upon. We believe it requires a truly impartial external review and revision in order to work for our region."

The Northern California Tribal Chairman’s Association, including the Chairs of the Elk Valley Rancheria, Hoopa Valley Tribe, Karuk Tribe, Smith River Rancheria, Trinidad Rancheria, and Yurok Tribe, believes the science behind the Marine Life Protection Act Initiative developed by Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Science Advisory Team is “incomplete and terminally flawed.”

For example, in a reversal of scientific logic, the MLPA provides for more regulation of highly abundant species such as mussels - and no harvest limits on fish such as the threatened Pacific eulachon.

“Under the MLPA each marine species is assigned a certain level of protection,” according to the Tribe's statement. “Species like mussels are given a low level of protection, which in MLPA-speak, translates to more regulation."

"To date, there has been no scientific data submitted suggesting that mussels on the North Coast are in any sort of danger or are overharvested. In fact, it’s just the opposite. The readily available quantitative survey data collected over decades by North Coast experts shows there is quite an abundance of mussels in this sparsely populated study region," the Tribe explained.

The Tribe said species like Pacific eulachon, also known as candlefish, are given a high level of protection; or in other words, their harvest is not limited by the proposed regulations. Eulachon are near extinction and listed as "threatened" under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA).

“Both of these marine species are essential and critical to the cultural survival of northern California tribes," said Chairman O’Rourke Sr. "However, under the proposed regulations they would be summarily mismanaged. It’s examples like these that compel our concerns.”

MLPA officials suppress studies challenging false assumptions, questionable data

The Yurok Tribe said it has attempted on numerous occasions to address the scientific inadequacies with the MLPA science developed under the Schwarzenegger administration by adding "more robust protocols" into the equation, but was denied every time. This denial of consideration of the Tribe's scientific data flies in the face of false claims by MLPA advocates that the privately funded initiative creates "Yosemites of the Sea" and "underwater parks" based on "science."

For example, the MLPA Science Advisory Team, co-chaired by Ron LeValley of Mad River Biologists, in August 2010 turned down a request by the Yurok Tribe to make a presentation to the panel. Among other data, the Tribe was going to present data of test results from other marine reserves regarding mussels.

“The data would have shown that there was not a statistical difference in the diversity of species from the harvested and un-harvested areas,” wrote John Corbett, Yurok Tribe Senior Attorney, in a letter to the Science Advisory Team on January 12, 2011. “The presentation would have encompassed the work of Smith, J.R. Gong and RF Ambrose, 2008, ‘The Impacts of Human Visitation on Mussel Bed Communities along the California Coast: Are Regulatory Marine Reserves Effective in Protecting these Communities.’” (http://yubanet.com/california/Dan-Bacher-MLPA-Officials-refused-to-Include-Tribal-scientists-in-process.php)

Likewise, Mike Belchik, senior fisheries biologist from the Yurok Fisheries Program, dispelled the false notion that the MLPA is a “science-based” process when he gave a brief presentation challenging the assumptions of the MLPA “science” at the Fish and Game Commission meeting in Stockton on June 29, 2011.

“With regard to local shoreline systems, where there is access, there are no ‘unfished’ systems,” said Belchik. “People have coexisted with these resources for many thousands of years; the appropriate conceptual organization foundation is that systems have been managed, and what is seen is the result of millennia of management.” (http://blogs.alternet.org/danbacher/2011/07/15/tribal-science-challenges-mlpa-initiative-assumptions)

No Tribal scientists were allowed to serve on the MLPA Science Advisory Team, in spite of the fact that the Yurok and other North Coast Indian Tribes have large natural resources and fisheries departments staffed with many fishery biologists and other scientists.

During the historic direct action protest by a coalition of over 50 Tribes and their allies in Fort Bragg on July 21, 2010, Frankie Joe Myers, Yurok Tribal member and Coastal Justice Coalition activist, exposed the refusal to incorporate Tribal science that underlies the questionable “science” of the MLPA process. (http://blogs.alternet.org/danbacher/2010/07/26/tribes-and-allies-take-control-of-fort-bragg-mlpa-meeting/)

“The whole process is inherently flawed by institutionalized racism," said Myers. "It doesn’t recognize Tribes as political entities, or Tribal biologists as legitimate scientists.”

Will the DFG and other state agencies step up to the plate and recognize Tribal biologists as legitimate scientists - and support a truly impartial external review and revision of the "science" that the MLPA Initiative is based upon?

To read a copy of the Yurok Tribe MLPA and Marine Resource Plan, go to: http://www.yuroktribe.org/government/tribalattorney/documents/2011.08.29_YurokTribe-FactualRecordtoCAFGC.pdf.

MLPA Initiative Background:

The Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) is a law, signed by Governor Gray Davis in 1999, designed to create a network of marine protected areas off the California Coast. However, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2004 created the privately-funded MLPA “Initiative” to “implement” the law, effectively eviscerating the MLPA.

The “marine protected areas” created under the MLPA Initiative fail to protect the ocean from oil spills and drilling, water pollution, military testing, seismic testing, wave and wind energy projects, corporate aquaculture and all other uses of the ocean other than fishing and gathering.

The MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Forces that oversaw the implementation of “marine protected areas” included a big oil lobbyist, marina developer, real estate executive and other individuals with numerous conflicts of interest. Catherine Reheis-Boyd, the president of the Western States Petroleum Association, served on the MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Force for the North Coast and North Central Coast.

Reheis-Boyd, a relentless advocate for offshore oil drilling, hydraulic fracturing (fracking), the Keystone XL Pipeline and the weakening of environmental laws, also chaired the South Coast MLPA Blue Ribbon Task that developed the MPAs that went into effect in Southern California waters on January 1, 2012.

The MLPA Initiative operated through a controversial private/public partnership funded by the shadowy Resources Legacy Fund Foundation. The Schwarzenegger administration, under intense criticism by grassroots environmentalists, fishermen and Tribal members, authorized the implementation of marine protected areas under the initiative through a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the foundation and the California Department of Fish and Game (DFG).