Archive for the 'Science, Policy, and Management' category

HR 669 and Invasive Species Prevention: I Still Think It's A Good Bill

Over the last few days, there has been a fair amount of discussion about the Nonnative Wildlife Invasion Prevention Act (HR 669). Some of that has occurred in the comments on my blog post on the subject, and quite a bit more over at GrrlScientist's blog. So far, I haven't seen anything that leads me to change my view that the bill is, on the whole, a good piece of legislation.

There are two main objections that I've seen that I'd like to specifically look at. The first is the possible impact that the bill would have on breeding species for conservation purposes. The second involves the potential impact that the bill might have on the owners of some pet species, and on the exotic pet industry.

HR 669 and Conservation Breeding:

In the comments section of my earlier post and on his own blog, Bob O'Hara raised the concern that the bill could severely impact conservation breeding. He points to two separate reasons that this could become a problem - the permitting language in the bill does not appear to permit breeding, and if a captive species is ruled to be a potentially harmful invasive, existing breeding programs could be forced to come to a halt.

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HR 669: The Nonnative Wildlife Invasion Prevention Act. A Good Idea

Apr 15 2009 Published by under Science, Policy, and Management

GrrlScientist and I are typically on the same side of issues, but this time that's not the case. She is very concerned about some of the implications of a bill that's currently making its way through the House of Representatives, and I think that the same bill is a good one that deserves to pass. The bill in question - House Resolution 669 - is intended to help keep new invasive species from becoming established in the United States.

After reading Grrl's post, I don't think that our disagreement stems from any difference of opinion about the science that's involved. I'm reasonably sure that both of us have the same basic understanding of the potential dangers involved with invasive species, and that we both understand quite a bit about the enormous difficulties that are going to be involved in any attempt to keep new invasives out. Our disagreement is largely caused by our different backgrounds and priorities.

The way I approach anything that has to do with invasive species is heavily influenced by the six years that I spent learning the basics of zoology and ecology in Hawaii. As you may know, invasives have done enormous damage to the entire Hawaiian ecosystem, and new invasive species continue to arrive and create new harm there with painful regularity. GrrlScientist's approach to this bill is heavily influenced by her involvement with exotic birds. She doesn't just care for her birds, she cares passionately about them.

And there's nothing wrong with that. It's not a feeling that I share, but that's because birds simply aren't my thing. I've never owned one, or really wanted to (as far as I can recall, anyway). Cats and dogs are the pets for me, and they're specifically excluded from this legislation (more on that later). There's no way that I'm going to weight the concerns of bird owners as heavily as Grrl does - but that's not to say that she's wrong.

This bill is a good example of something that I've tried to say a couple of times when we've discussed the whole "restoring science to it's rightful place" thing: understanding the science involved doesn't necessarily mandate a particular course of action. If Grrl and I disagree to any substantive degree about the harm that invasives can do to the ecology and economy of the United States, I'd be absolutely stunned. That doesn't mean that I'm at all surprised that we disagree about this particular bill and the approach that it takes in addressing that potential harm.

In the rest of this post, I'll give you a quick overview of the major features of the bill, and explain why I think it's a pretty good piece of legislation, on the whole. I'll also take a look at a couple of Grrl's objections to the bill. Before you reach any conclusion of your own, you should at a minimum read her post in full, and try to find answers to any questions you might have.

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Congress, The Deadliest Catch, and "Drill, baby, drill!"

Mar 25 2009 Published by under Science, Policy, and Management

The Discovery Channel's Deadliest Catch is one of the only reality shows I can watch without rooting for the painful demise of 2/3 of the cast, preferably before the first commercial break. I genuinely enjoy the show, not just because it looks at an interesting job, but because it seems to capture some insights into genuinely interesting people. As someone who is interested in science and how science is used in public policy, though, I'm sometimes a little frustrated that the show doesn't take the opportunity to really get into any of the science or policy issues that are involved in our fisheries.

Those issues aren't sexy. They don't have the raw human appeal that you get watching a greenhorn struggle to make it in a rough job, or a captain and his brother having a heated discussion below decks. They certainly don't involve the risk of sudden death in sub-freezing temperatures. Including them probably is probably not likely to improve their ratings (at least outside the highly sought-after 30-35 year old balding science geek demographic). But they are important, and almost nobody who doesn't work in those areas really knows anything about them.

I was interested to learn that one of the captains featured on The Deadliest Catch testified about one of the fisheries issues at the intersection of science and public and before Congress on Tuesday. Captain Keith Colburn, owner of the F/V Wizard, spoke before a joint hearing of the Energy and Mineral Resources and Insular Affairs, Oceans and Wildlife Subcommittees of the House Committee on Natural Resources. The hearing used the 20th anniversary of the Exxon Valdez oil spill as an opportunity to examine President Bush's decision to open more areas in the Bering Sea to oil and gas exploration.

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Federal Judge Slaps FDA Around; Plan B will be Available Without Prescription to 17 Year-Olds

Back in 2005 and 2006, I wrote a few posts about the insanely arbitrary decision making process that the FDA was pretending to use to justify its obviously pre-determined conclusion to restrict the availability of the Plan B "morning after" pill as much as they thought they could get away with. The FDA ultimately decided to deny applications to fully move Plan B to over-the-counter status, but finally accepted a request to waive the prescription requirement for patients 18 years old or older. That was in August of 2006, and that's been the status quo ever since. Until this morning.

Earlier today, Judge Edward Korman of the Eastern District of New York issued a ruling on a lawsuit brought by individuals who had petitioned the FDA to make Plan B available without prescription or age limitation. It would be a bit of an understatement to say that Korman was highly critical of the FDA's alleged process in this case. The ruling stopped short of being everything that the plaintiffs asked for, but not by much.

Here's the bottom line:

1: Korman ruled that the entire Plan B over-the-counter decision making process was arbitrary and capricious. He also ruled that the FDA did not act in good faith, and that the process was clearly tainted by inappropriate political considerations. He vacated the FDA's denial of the petition to make Plan B available without prescription or age restriction, and has ordered the agency to go back and try to address the petition properly.

2: Korman also ruled that the FDA's decision to deny Plan B to 17 year olds was based on something so "implausible" that there is no need to order the FDA to review the decision. He's given the FDA 30 days to issue an order permitting the manufacturer to make Plan B available to 17 year olds without prescription.

The Judge Korman's decision provides an excellent overview of the politically tainted process that led to the treatment of the Plan B process. I'll probably have more to say about that tomorrow, after I have a chance to read the decision again while more fully awake.

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Mooney on Global Warming in the WaPo

If you're looking for a good read this morning, I suggest you pop over to the Washington Post's Opinion pages. Scibling Chris Mooney has an excellent op-ed in there today, in response to George Will's recent climate change denial escapades.

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State of the Birds Report: Bad Overall, Particularly Grim in Hawaii

Mar 20 2009 Published by under Science, Policy, and Management

The 2009 State of the Birds report, released yesterday, is not a happy read. Over the last 40 years, bird populations in the United States have not been doing well, as a whole. There are a few hopeful signs here and there - some populations have recovered - but almost 1/3 of the species in America are endangered, threatened, or show signs of significant population declines. That's not good.

As bad as the situation on the US Mainland may be, it pales compared to the situation in Hawai'i. At the moment, 31 species of native Hawaiian birds are Federally listed as endangered or threatened. Several more species are considered to be candidates for listing. It is believed that 10 of the 31 listed species are actually extinct, and that 1 is extinct in the wild.

These species face a very wide range of threats. From the report:

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Senate Update - Science Adviser, NOAA Administrator Confirmed (Finally).

Those of you who followed the recent (and prolonged) saga involving thed anonymous holds that were blocking confirmation of John Holdren (the President's nominee for Science Adviser) and Jane Lubchenco (the NOAA Administrator nominee) will no doubt be relieved to learn that the drama has officially come to an end. The New York Times is reporting that both nominees were confirmed by unanimous consent of the Senate this evening.

Thanks again to everyone who stepped forward to help when politics got in the way.

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Something Called "Tsunami Warning" Issued For Portion of South Pacific Following Mag 7.9 Quake

Update 2: PTWC has cancelled the regional warning. A tsunami was in fact generated, but the waves have been measured and are very small (about 1.5 inches in height).

Updated: The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center states that a tsunami was generated by this earthquake. The size of the tsunami is not yet known, and the warning has not been extended to other areas of the Pacific. (Remember,tsunamis can be very small.)


An earthquake tentatively measured by the USGS at magnitude 7.9 has struck Tonga in the South Pacific. It's unknown at this time if the quake has generated a tsunami, but given the size and depth of the quake, the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center has issued a regional tsunami warning for the areas around the quake's epicenter.

Tsunami warning is one of those things that's like "volcano monitoring" - it's something that's done by a small number of scientists who work in relative obscurity. The budget line for our tsunami monitoring program contains quite a few things that people who are skeptical of the federal government's spending habits might question - like providing geophysicists with Hawaiian homes.

In actuality, this is one of those cases where appearances are deceiving. Tsunami warnings are, at least in theory, capable of preventing all fatalities from tsunamis. The waves take time to travel, and only areas that are relatively near the coastlines are typically impacted. Given even a limited amount of time, it's possible to get everyone at risk out of the way.

That's good, because there is often only a limited amount of time.

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Why Salazar's Wolf Delisting Decision Is Good - Or At Least Not All Bad

A couple of weeks ago, Interior Secretary Ken "Cowboy Hat" Salazar went ahead with a decision to remove endangered species protections from grey wolves in several western states. The decision in question was first proposed by the Bush Administration, and was extremely controversial. Needless to say, there are quite a few people who are unhappy with Salazar's decision to approve the delisting.

To be honest, I'm not thrilled with it myself. I looked at the issue last year, and there certainly seemed to be some very good reasons to think that the delisting is not a good idea. Salazar's decision faces an almost certain court challenge, and it may well wind up being overturned. Speaking as someone who is concerned about the environment, and who thinks that it's critically important for us to preserve as much biodiversity as possible, I'm appalled by the delisting. I'm glad that we've got groups like Defenders of Wildlife acting as watchdogs, and I hope they succeed in getting the delisting overturned.

Speaking as someone who is concerned about the political use of scientific information, and who thinks that it's critically important to de-politicize scientific decisions as much as possible, I'm actually kind of happy about this one. I may not like or agree with the outcome, but the process shows some promise.

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THIS JUST IN - No Holds on Science Nominees!

Mar 12 2009 Published by under Science, Policy, and Management

The New York Times has just reported that the Senate Commerce Committee held a closed-door, unannounced markup earlier today. During the markup, the Committee unanimously approved both John Holdren and Jane Lubchenco, and both nominations are expected to move to the floor.

According to the Times, both John Rockefeller (the Committee Chair) and Kay Bailey Hutchison (the ranking Republican) say that all holds that they know of have been released, and that the nominees should be confirmed sometime this week.

I'll keep an eye on this story, and let you know if there are any changes. I'd like to thank everyone who took the time to contact members of the Senate, and everyone who tolerated several days of my near monomaniacal focus on this issue.

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