Monday, August 13, 2007

Finding the humor in political interference of science

The Union of Concerned Scientists recently ran a contest to pick the best editorial cartoon regarding political interference of science and just announced the winner. You can see the rest of the entries here. I think my favorite is this one.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Restoration work in Rocky Mountain National Park

If you’re ever out west, Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) is one of those places you really have to consider visiting. Last weekend, about 60 or 70 volunteers with Wildlands Restoration Volunteers (WRV) planted sedges and willow in RMNP.

The goal was to restore a former wetland that was demolished by a flood in 1982, when a man-made dam collapsed, sending flood waters down the Roaring River, through the park, and into the nearby town of Estes Park, Colorado. The flood also created Fan Lake where a wet meadow used to be.

In 1996, the Park Service breached the debris dam that had formed as a result of the flood (and which trapped the water forming Fan Lake), but the wet meadow never came back, in part because the hydrology of the area had been permanently altered. (The Roaring River entered the meadow at a different place post-flood, so the area never really dried out like expected.) Another problem was heavy elk browsing on willows trying to colonize the meadow after Fan Lake was drained.

To help restore the wetland, the Park Service rerouted the Roaring River back into its historical channel and fenced a large part of the meadow to keep elk out. To speed things along even more, they worked with WRV to plant nearly 20,000 sedges and almost 1,000 willow seedlings. In a few years, the recently planted vegetation will have continued to grow and will provide habitat for birds, cover for fish, and food for elk and moose.

Here’s a few pictures of the area taken by Desiree Holtz

You can see more pictures by Desiree of the area and the volunteers here.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Politics and risk assessment

Political interference with science (or just ignoring scientific findings altogether) has gotten a lot of attention under the Bush administration. An editorial in this week’s issue of Nature brings up an example of science ignored.

Apparently, in 2006, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) drafted a new bulletin on risk assessment (including a new definition of risk assessment and new standards for its application). The National Academy of Sciences reviewed the draft at the request of the OMB and several other federal agencies. A two word excerpt from the NAS report sums it up: “fundamentally flawed.”

A press release issued in January of 2007 quotes the chair of the NAS committee that produced the review as saying:

We began our review of the draft bulletin thinking we would only be recommending changes, but the more we dug into it, the more we realized that from a scientific and technical standpoint, it should be withdrawn altogether."

If this all happened months ago, then why is it the subject of an editorial in Nature? Because the draft bulletin is still alive and kicking. According to the editorial, the draft is under revision. I suppose that’s a good thing, but what kind of revision can fix something that’s fundamentally flawed?

Election Widget

Just added a widget from on the bottom of the right sidebar. I haven't written much about the environment (and even less about politics), but I thought I'd add it here so that it reminds me to check up on things as the election cycle progresses.

The widget is available here.