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Conservationists Cry Owl Over Bush Administration Pseudoscience

Back in March and April 2004, Irregular Times reported on the efforts of the Bush Administration to use false information, including fake photographs, in publicly-funded brochures designed to encourage political support for George W. Bush's plan to increase the destruction of trees on public lands. These brochures had the gall to use old photographs of heavily-logged forests to represent what the Bush Administration calls the "natural" state of American wilderness.

Apparently, Bush and his Republican supporters thought that the American people would believe their claims that the only truly natural forest is one in which all the big trees have been removed with chain saws. It took some tough investigations by committed environmentalists to uncover the truth: The Bush Administration had hired a high-priced public relations firm to convince the public that the only way to save our National Forests is to destroy them.

Now it appears that this intentional deception by the Bush Administration is just one instance in a larger pattern of purposeful suppression and distortion of science in order to provide logging companies with greater freedom to wreak havoc on public lands. The latest instance of such manipulation by the Bush Administration comes from the Forest Service leadership, which has been using false information about owl habitats to support Bush's program of forest destruction.

You see, the Bush Administration thought that it would be clever to use environmentalist language in order to justify its attacks on the environment. So, George W. Bush took its forest destruction policy and gave it a new name: "The Healthy Forests Initiative." Then, in order to support the claim that forests need to have their trees removed in order to remain healthy, the Bush's leadership at the Forest Service produced brochures claiming that habitat for spotted owls and other threatened species of owls is threatened more by natural forest fires than by logging. The strange logic of these Bush Administration brochures was that, in order to protect the owl's forests from fires, it would be necessary to cut the forests down.

The crucial element in this argument was the suggestion that owl habitat is under grave threat from fires. In order to support this point, the Forest Service listed a whole bunch of sites on public lands where forest fires had destroyed owl habitat, killing owls or driving them away.

The truth of the matter, of course, was much different than what the Bush Administration claimed in its brochure. At least seven of the sites described by Forest Service leadership as destroyed and complete devoid of owls are, in fact, green and healthy, and home to the very owl species that the Bush brochure says don't live there any more. One wildlife biologist who has conducted surveys near Lake Tahoe for the Forest Service found six sites officially described as "lost to fire" were actually quite capable of supporting owls. The same kind of findings were made in the Plumas National Forest and the Eldorado National Forest. Garry Rotta, who serves as a biologist at the Plumas National Forest puts the truth plainly as he says, "They are not lost. We had owl surveys conducted after the burn and were able to put owls at each one."

Oops. Forest Service officials claim that their wild mischaracterization of the state of post-fire forest ecosystems was just a mistake. This claim is belied, however, by the fact that the Forest Service leadership attempted to cover up their deception through censorship and intimidation of its scientists.

When he brought the inaccuracies of governmental publications about the effects of fires on owls to the attention of his superiors, Forest Service wildlife biologist Michael Gertsch was removed from the team that wrote the plan for Sierra Nevada forest management. After Gertsch's removal, a key statement referring to the positive impact of fire on forest ecosystems was removed from the final version of the Forest Service plan. The censored statement was the result of an analysis that concluded that fire maintains forest health and does not do any long term damage to owl habitat.

This censorship and intimidation of scientists fits into a yet larger pattern of anti-science campaigns by the Bush Administration throughout the government. The widespread attacks on the integrity of scientific work are documented in detail by Politics and Science.

So, where did the Bush Administration's Forest Service leadership come up with the idea that forest fires endanger rare species of owl? Apparently, they came up with the idea out of thin air in order to provide political support for George W. Bush's plan to increase logging in America's National Forests. Monica Bond, a biologist who works for the Center for Biological Diversity and conducted surveys of owls for the Forest Service explains, "The claim that fire is eliminating spotted owl habitat in the Sierra Nevada does not appear to be based upon any surveys or site-specific analysis of owl survival and occupancy." In other words, there is no scientific basis for the Bush Administration's claims that it is protecting owl habitat by allowing logging corporations to cut down the big trees that owls live in.

It's not just for the owls and the forests that we bring this problem to your attention. The Bush Administration's blatant disregard for science threatens us all, because it damages our society's efforts to provide people with sound medicine, solid education, and safe food and water. George W. Bush and his Republican elites are attempting to make science the servant of their conservative policy agendas. In doing so, they are converting governmental agencies of science into faith-based initiatives, where the conclusions are arrived at first, on the basis of political belief, and the justifications are found later.

It's just this sort of biased political distortion of information that enabled George W. Bush to lead America into disaster in Iraq. Whether military or scientific in nature, Bush's policies are consistently based upon faulty intelligence. The blame for these intelligence failures cannot rest with the experts employed by the government, but rather must be assigned to the officials put in place by the Bush Administration. Those officials have placed the political concerns of Karl Rove and the Republican Party above the basic need for a government that the American people can trust, and in doing so, have undermined the foundation of American democracy. After all, without reliable public information, democracy cannot survive.

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