'Best available science' refuted in study
June 12, 2008 · Updated 10:09 AM
"The scientific validity of a mid-summer salmon habitat study, conducted by Chris May, a research scientist with the University of Washington, is still being contested by development proponents.Local developers have decried the study, saying May's references to best available science have no sound backing. An August letter from senior scientist Carl Hadley, of Associated Earth Sciences, Inc., addressed to the county commissioners, identified an appendix of recommendations in May's study as particularly troubling.May said he does not regard Hadley as a scientist, but rather a consultant who assists developers in working through environmental problems. I wouldn't consider him a scientist or a peer, May said.Hadley described Associated Earth Sciences, Inc., as a consulting firm for people who need permits, like businesses, timber companies or private landowners. We work for land developers, he said. He reviewed the refugia study on the request of Port Blakely, which is trying to get a permit to develop in the Chico Creek area. Port Blakely asked me to take a look to see how it would affect their proposed development, Hadley said. In a letter to commissioners, Hadley said Appendix B contains references to sources that were not sufficiently reviewed by peers in the scientific community, calling the referential studies gray literature.These should not be included in a review of best available science. Unfortunately, Appendix B relies heavily on gray literature documents as well as articles describing work in areas ecologically different than the Pacific Northwest Region (e.g. New Zealand and Australia), he wrote.Hadley said May recommends in Appendix B increasing buffer zones beyond those made in the scientific literature without explaining where his recommendations are supported.He cites no evidence for these conclusions (other) than references to gray literature and reviews which were not scientific studies, Hadley wrote.He also contested May's table recommending fish buffers exceed 200 meters. How he came to these conclusions is unknown. His statements about certain distances being generally accepted are un-referenced.It certainly does not appear to be a review of best available science, but rather a very conservative personal interpretation of select literature, Hadley said.Hadley recommended the appendix be removed from the refugia study. Besides being arguably flawed, he said, the appendix veers from the original intent of the study, which was to inventory existing conditions of salmon habitat throughout the county.May concedes the appendix was intended to be somewhat distinct from the main body of the study. Appendix B is a separate thing unto itself, he said. There was some concern in the county about what the buffers should be.Gray literature, May said, is the first step in the scientific process. The process of peer reference and review can take years, he said.Furthermore, the issue of the impact of urban development on streams has only recently become a studied phenomenon, he said, leaving much of the literature on the subject gray.While published studies of the effects of logging or agriculture on streams could date back decades, the first study of the effects of urbanization on streams was done in 1979, May said. A lot of it is gray. It's a very rapidly evolving science. "