A review of the current Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for Drake’s Estero reveals the nature of National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis’ war on the scientific method. The scientific method involves observation, hypothesis, analysis and verification. In Jarvis’ case, NPS observation is driven by his version of policy, coupled with refusal to engage in open dialogue on the analysis, and concealment and manipulation of data that would prevent them from verifying their claims.
Once again, NPS created a new hypothesis of harm, in this case the supposedly highly negative impact of sound on wildlife and wilderness from Drake’s Bay Oyster Company. However, this latest allegation cannot survive even the most cursory examination without collapsing in a way that raises serious questions as to the integrity of Jarvis’ management of Park Service science, repeating behaviors that date from the original attempts to remove the oyster farm in 2004 by unsuccessfully lobbying California Department of Fish and Game to refuse to grant a 25-year lease extension. In the meeting, CDFG stated that if NPS had reason to shut down the oyster farm it should do it under its own authority. If the CDFG lease had not been extended, Lunny could not have acquired the oyster farm in 2005.
In the current case, NPS and its contractor, VBH, claim that noise has a significant negative impact on wildlife in the estero. Their case was presented such that it misled peer reviewers at ATKINS, hired by the Department of Interior to analyze the DEIS. They believed that the data presented to them came from actual sources in the estero, as clearly stated in Chapter 3, p. 155 describing, “the existing conditions for these elements of the natural, cultural and social environment that could be affected by the implementations of those actions considered in this EIS.” The soundscapes are expressly identified, yet Table 3.3 of that chapter substitutes, for the 20-hp DBOC outboard, sound values from 75-horsepower Kawasaki Jet Skis as listed in a New Jersey State Police report. The title of Table 3.3? ”Noise Generators at DBOC.”
Abuse of science begins with NPS failure to identify and measure actual sound sources, as set forth by the NPS directives and procedures established by their own NPS soundscape scientists. Without explanation as to the reasons, they ‘imported’ the New Jersey jet-ski sound level of 71 decibels and applied it to the DBOC boat, against the boat’s actual level of 60 decibels as measured by ENVIRON (hired by DBOC to measure actual sounds to counteract the ‘jet ski’ sound level claims). Note that the decibel scale is logarithmic, so that the claimed level is not 18% louder (the linear value) but twelve times as loud. In other words, it would take twelve DBOC boats to equal the grossly exaggerated sound levels claimed by NPS for a single boat. When this level of exaggeration is coupled with arbitrarily lowering the ambient sound levels in the estero, the enormity of the way NPS distorted the sound becomes evident, as shown graphically below
Sound footprints of the DBOC oyster boats as alleged by NPS and its contractor, and as actually measured by Environ. The height of the triangles shows the relative difference between the decibel levels. The boat’s location is immediately below the vertical sides of the triangle. (click on images for larger version)
NPS and VHB should have known that this ‘imported’ sound level would not be credible because on February 16, 2011, Natalie Gates, the PRNS scientist managing the DEIS, Nancy Barker of VHB and another VHB staffer, were taken on an Estero boat tour by Kevin Lunny of DBOC. They taped their observations and provided DBOC with a copy on which their normal voices are clearly understandable. Yet they conclude, on table 4.4 of the DEIS, that the boat sound level of 71 decibels means, “Vocal communication will be difficult at four feet” and a sound level of 52 dB, at 435 feet, “Interferes with interpretive presentations or group leader communications.” The oyster boat is ten feet long, and at that distance, the motor sound level would have to be 85 decibels to match their data. Table 3.4 of the DEIS states that at 80 dB, conversation becomes difficult and that at two feet the recorded conversation could not have taken place. Despite this conflicting evidence, NPS and its contractor failed to measure actual sound levels. Worse, the NPS had research data in hand that directly discredited their hypothesis of harm.
The DEIS cites the Federal Aviation Administration Volpe Center 2011 report, entitled, “Baseline Ambient Sound Levels in Point Reyes National Seashore,” which has a full range of sound intensity and background levels taken from a microphone directly overlooking the estero (despite NPS DEIS statements that the microphone was obstructed and unable to hear mariculture activities). Though the Volpe report never mentioned oyster boats, the levels claimed by NPS should have been recorded by the FAA microphone. However, it appeared that the boat’s actual, measured sound print, as shown in the graphic, should have appeared on the data when the boat was on its weekly Department of Health sampling trips in the eastern channel at the levels reported by Environ.
Volpe report Figure 53, annotated to show distances and location of oyster boat footprint, which DEIS claims is masked by the bluffs. The actual recordings obtained by Dr. Goodman clearly show the passage of the oyster boats at sound levels consistent with the Environ data, with the boat positions determined by their on-board GPS systems.
Dr. Corey Goodman, a nationally prominent scientist and local resident, has been a long-standing critic of NPS since he was asked, in April 2007, to review their claims by local supervisor Steve Kinsey. Dr. Goodman obtained the underlying data from the Volpe report, which he reviewed in conjunction with Environ and scientists from NPS sound research at Fort Collins, Colorado. Goodman’s highly detailed Fraud, Waste and Abuse (Scientific Misconduct) complaint was submitted to the Interior Department’s Inspector General on April 24, 2012. The Volpe sound data were confirmed by the Times’ more elementary study of boat sound levels by NPS and VHB, and clearly shows that the presence of the boat in the eastern channel were recorded by the Volpe microphone, closely matching the decibel levels Environ measured. NPS concealed these data and withheld them from the DEIS.
This is yet another failure by NPS to follow a scientific procedure, as they should have at least tested their hypothesis of harm against the actual, available sound data. This pattern is identical to the incident several years ago when the Park Service set up a hidden camera in approximately the same location as the Volpe microphone. When it failed to substantiate the previous harm hypothesis–that oyster operations were disturbing seals–they concealed the program from the Marin County Board of Supervisors, DOI IG, the National Academy of Sciences and the Marine Mammal Commission panel. NPS had exculpatory evidence and direct contradictions in hand, and either failed to consider this material or simply ignored it and concealed it from others just as, in this case, they withheld the Environ sound data from peer reviewers.
Dr. Goodman’s investigation revealed that the DEIS made numerous claims that are internally contradictory. For instance, NPS used three different standards for sound levels, finally selecting one that is neither cited in the Volpe report nor used in any other NPS EIS reports. The DEIS then claims that it is ‘using the accepted formula’ that sound decreases 6 decibels with every doubling of distance from the source. However, this NPS statement is contradicted by DEIS’ table 4-2, used with the actual Environ data as the basis for the Times graphic. Dr. Goodman’s Complaint notes significant errors in the NPS sound-distance calculations. This miscalculation also shows that the unbelievable NPS claim–that a hand-held air hammer is audible at 3.3 miles–becomes ludicrous when corrected, indicating that NPS believes the hammer should be audible at a distance of over 10 miles. There is no scientifically acceptable way that actual sound data could be manipulated to support the NPS hypothesis of harm.
The reality of the oyster farm is considerably different and does not need science and data to see the fantasy of the NPS claims. Approximately 50,000 people/year visit the oyster farm, take educational tours, sit at picnic tables and enjoy the oysters, all within a few feet of equipment that the DEIS claims to be so noisy that normal conversation would be impossible. Yet the Lunnys have received not a single complaint about noise from visitors or NPS, until noise surfaced as the latest hypothesis of harm in the DEIS. The current pattern is the same as all previous NPS allegations: when examined and reviewed, the false claims were discredited. Repeated attempts to manufacture a case of environmental harm against the Lunnys failed. Imported data from New Jersey jet ski and construction equipment is clearly another case in which counterfeit science was called upon to produce the desired NPS result.
May 8th is the fifth anniversary of NPS claims to the Marin County Board of Supervisors that Lunny was an environmental criminal who had caused a massive loss of seal pups. In the ensuing five years, not one of the NPS hypotheses of harm has held up to millions of dollars of taxpayer-funded investigation by outside sources such as the National Academy of Sciences or the Marine Mammal Commission. Now, NPS behavior has totally invalidated their DEIS which–as Senator Dianne Feinstein said in a recent letter to Interior Secretary Salazar–appears fraudulent. The Department of Interior IG and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy should take this case from NPS and those involved within DOI, judge their conduct against the standards set forth in President Obama’s March 9, 2009 executive order on scientific integrity, and proceed as the facts, laws and accountability dictate.