Bull trout recovery plan assessed by retired Fish & Wildlife employee - Opinion used by 'experts' rather than scientific evidence

Below is a summary of the WALF commissioned Ken Williams assessment of the bull trout Recovery Plan. Ken is a retired WDFW [Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife] employee who managed bull trout and steelhead in the Upper Columbia.


Ken Williams Bull Trout Recovery Assessment Summary

Despite all of the rhetoric there is no
scientifically demonstrated nexus between agricultural practices and
bull trout abundance. In fact, a stronger case can be made that
agriculture has improved habitat via riprap and irrigation recharge.

The NMFS" local moniker for professional judgement is "best available science". The USFWS uses the term professional judgement, which is more forthright, but still the implication towards party line science is not obvious to the innocent. Professional judgment has its place, but only where science ends and there is no further recourse. In this recovery
plan professional judgment is used in lieu of or even in preference to science, as if interchangeable. Contrary empirical evidence is routinely ignored in favor of professional opinion by authors with dubious qualifications. The Mullan Report, for example, was reduced to a few citations that were useful to the authors, but much of the empirical evidence was ignored. Professional opinion in many cases was used as evidence for more professional opinion, building what amounts to a house of cards. For example, the Washington State Conservation Commission reports, which were little more than polling of spontaneous professional opinions from personnel not intimately involved with the report, were cited many times because those reports espoused the correct answers. The authors of the Plan must go back and collate all of the relevant
literature"pro and con" to qualify as serious science.

A hallmark of unimpeachable science is rigorous peer review. One of the bald inadequacies of the ESA is that it violates the scientific method by striking the peer review tenet. In my experience institutional science flows along with sectarian oversight which invariably yields malleable science, science vulnerable to institutional bias,
blind-spots, and even venality. Recall that it was the unsolicited review of archaeologists that exposed the chinks in the Atlantic Salmon recovery effort. Closer to home, independent reviewers representing the National Academy Sciences contracted by the federal government illuminated the institutional bias fomented by a coalition of institutions and tribes attempting to recover Klamath River fishes. Independent, interdisciplinary review by reputable scientists working outside of provincial purview is mandatory for achieving tour de force
science, which must be the goal of every recovery plan. Rightfully the local institutions have worn out the Mullan Report reviewing and re-viewing it, which is precisely the model for this tome.

The shortcut to authenticating and adopting a plan is wont to be habitat-based, as all recovery plans are wont to be in this age, because today only the cause of cause and effect need be demonstrated. Therefore, it's not necessary to show that a culvert is blocking fish only that the culvert exists. There is no science in counting culverts.

Similarly, all the evidences of man"s eco-infractions of streams' riprap, livestock, irrigation, roads, etc.- are assigned equal weight to be tallied up in a spectacular incriminating heap that can in itself explain the "demise" of bull trout. Culpability can be determined and documented in an office without a dead fish in hand or hardly a glance toward the river. The slant against man jumps out from the bypassing of natural habitat factors to dwell on human factors. The Plan does not even mention the USGS hydrological study in the Methow and how the USFWS might incorporate that information into the plan. The habitat status section of the report is so superficial and canted that it is useless and dangerous in diagnosing fish status and charting a recovery plan.

Habitat is like gravity, everyone observes it, but no one can explain it. Everyone understands the reality and importance of habitat, but who can define it or its correlation to fish in quantitative terms? In this vacuum of scientific certainty confusion and non-science (professional judgments) flourish. The habitat theme now reposes on a pedestal so venerated that falsification is untenable even by science, a point that Karl Popper warned ofirrefutability may seem like a virtue, but in reality it is a vice. In other words a rule that has an answer for
everything really answers nothing. Michael Polanyi insightfully averred that society gives meaning to science rather than science giving meaning to society. In this context we are not dumbfounded when the Director of

WDFW rhapsodizes the virtues of the Methow"s Arrowleaf Reach- a naturally dewatering reach - in the same breath he finds irrigation an agent of extinction in reaches that never dewater. Or should we puzzle when the fish restoration folks would rather drown than reach out for an irrigation recharge life preserver. And why they enthusiastically embrace "professional opinions" from non-professionals who overlook how irrigation may actually improve the amount and quality of water for fish. Or be amazed that it"s not about salmon but rather geographical
control (McDonald (2000).

The habitat-based recovery preoccupation should be corroborated by alternative methods, if the plan is to be more than an echo from the non-scientific culture and a clone of the New England Atlantic salmon disaster. Life history ecology and population biology understanding are glaringly AWOL, as are harvest management principles, all blows to the competency of the plan. Calling on professional judgment to set target recovery numbers based on genetic theory is inappropriate. Such numbers are implausibly and indefensibly high on the order of magnitude of 10 to 15. With them recovery becomes impossible and eternal. Predicting the institutions will be loath to admit that the target numbers are off-the-chart high, the only recourse is to tighten the stranglehold on humans, particularly farmers, further infringing upon their ability to interact with natural resources in responsible ways. It is clear to me
that this plan is too idealistic, simplistic, and incomplete to serve bull trout and to justify promulgating changes of current human practices.

I agree that some populations are low, but I disagree strongly about causation. The current plight, with a few minor exceptions, is a natural process- interglacial warming followed by invasion of salmon and
steelhead. The status and recovery is predicated on the diminution of bull trout via human actions, but neither the diminution or the actions have been determined with any degree of reliability. The linchpin of risk analysis is not based on range and abundance declines but rather "backdoor" approacheswhimsical genetic theory and speculated habitat degradation. There is no compelling evidence for extinction, apart from future climatic warming. All of the populations are self-sustaining and occupy their pre-anglo historical range except the Lake Chelan population, one (possibly two) very small populations in the Methow and one small population in the Okanogan. In all cases where populations have disappeared the blame, ironically, lies squarely on the institutions for stocking incompatible species of fish or constructing impassable dams (Icicle Creek). Despite all of the rhetoric there is no scientifically demonstrated nexus between agricultural practices and bull trout abundance. In fact, a stronger case can be made that agriculture has improved habitat via riprap and irrigation recharge.

The complete assessment is available on request.

WALF has also commissioned a white paper legal review of drainage district authority and management in Washington State that will be available soon.



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