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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Buy it, read it., August 21, 1998
By A Customer
This review is from: Science Under Siege: The Politician's War on Nature and Truth (Paperback)
Science Under Siege: The Politicians' War on Nature and the Truth. By Todd Wilkinson. Johnson Press, Boulder, CO. 343 pp.
Reviewed by Pete Geddes, Program Director, Foundation for Research on Economics and the Environment
From the Civil War until roughly Earth Day, commodity production dominated federal land management. This was often at the expense of ecological integrity, economic efficiency, and social sustainability. Todd Wilkinson's new book Science Under Siege: The Politicians' War on Nature and the Truth adds personal ethics to this list. He demonstrates how bureaucratic and political pressures sacrifice both environment quality and careers to political expediency.
Wilkinson, a western correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor has been following western environmental issues for the last ten years. Science Under Siege reaffirms that bureaucracies function ultimately as machines to protect and perpetuate their budgets and co-dependent political interests. Wilkinson tells the stories of eight well intentioned and hardworking "whistleblowers" and the personal and professional price they pay when their convictions confront the leviathan. The stories of political manipulation and agency retaliation are depressing but important reading for those seriously interested in federal land management reform or bureaucratic pathologies more generally.
For readers east of the Mississippi River, it's important to understand west of the 100th Meridian, the federal government controls of half the Western lands. At the turn of the century, the West was the staging ground for experiments in Progressive Era conservation. Through "scientific management" benevolent, centralized bureaucracies (e.g., the Forest Service) were to stop the abuses of the nation's natural resources. This was a well intentioned, but naive idea. Instead an "iron triangle" emerged among Congress, federal agencies, and clientele (chamber of commerce/stock grower/mining alliances). As this alliance hardened, the federal agencies, dependent upon the political process for budgetary survival, bowed to political pressures. This may come as a surprise to those who believe it's the mission of the Forest Service to preserve 191 million acres of national forests for "future generations". But as Wilkison documents, the interest of these agencies comes at the expense of national taxpayers, sustainable ecosystems, and agency employees.
The danger in a book like this is that Wilkinson opens himself to charges of being a pawn for disgruntled employees. For most of the book Wilkison avoids this trap. He insulates himself in two important ways: First, Wilkinson chooses carefully. He selected eight subjects from a field of 110. To each profile Wilkinson brings in a range of supporting characters. This adds both substance and a soothing tone. Second, by profiling scientists who publish in professional journals, Wilkinson avoids "he-said, she-said" mud-slinging.
His profile of David Mattson is illustrative. A former Yellowstone National Park grizzly bear researcher, Mattson is an internationally respected as a leading authority on grizzly bear populations dynamics. He arrived at his office one morning to find it ransacked; data gone, computer confiscated, and personal files locked away. Mattson's offense? His research was leading him to conclude that grizzly bear populations in and around Yellowstone may be declining over the long-term. This was counter to the official line preached by bear recovery coordinator Chris Servheen. Servheen maintains that grizzlies in Yellowstone have multiplied since the species was listed as endangered in 1975. Mattson recently opened his data to criticisms of the entire scientific community by publishing his results in the journal Ecology. Servheen has the same opportunity.
The ultimate vindication for Wilinkson's whistleblowers may be found on the land itself. Readers can judge the veracity of former Forest Service fisheries "combat" biologist Al Espinoza by visiting the Clearwater National Forest in central Idaho. They can see the steep slopes, denuded of trees from top to bottom, and the miles of logging roads responsible for spilling sediment into fragile salmon streams. (I spent a summer reviewing appeals of Forest Service decisions on the Clearwater and provided Wilkinson information.)
In the patchwork pattern of clearcuts on the national forest of Oregon and Washington, whistelblower Jeff DeBonis made his mark. DeBonis, an up and coming Forest Service timber sale planer, was responsible for "getting the cut out" in the region's old-growth forests. The Pacific Northwest is the "Big League" of professional forestry. Here both the trees and the stakes for meeting timber quotas are big. Sometimes the results are disastrous. For example, the Forest Service recently "accepted blame" for trashing the entire Fish Creek watershed on Oregon's Mount Hood National Forest. It will cost taxpayers $5.4 million to restore areas where logging caused some of the "worst landslides in the region" and runs of wild salmon have "been nearly wiped out".
After a crisis of conscience DeBonis left the Forest Service and founded the Association of Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics (AFSEEE). He notes, "For many people who wear the green (Forest Service) uniform, the working environment is like living in East Germany before the Berlin Wall fell". This is a predictable consequence when decisions are made in the political arena. Here, political considerations trump ecological, ethical, and economic factors.
Without explicit reference, Science Under Siege reaffirms the thirty year-old message of public choice economists Noble Laureate James Buchanan, Mancur Olson, Gordon Tullock, and others. They described how concentrated, motivated interest groups forming around economic benefits, have significant advantages in political struggles against more disorganized groups. The powerful analytical tools of economics can help explain the causes of maladies environmentalist condemn: money-losing clearcuts on the national forests; federal dams that don't begin to cover operation costs (let alone the amortized costs of construction); federal agents killing predators such as mountain lions and bears on federal lands grazed by livestock at a huge ecological and economic expense, and a gaggle of other environmentally costly practices. The poignant stories in Science Under Siege, provide further motivation for removing resource management from the political process.
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