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MANAGEMENT BY MYTH

MYTHS

Misinformation, inaccuratel0y presented information, scientifically unsupported concepts, or scientifically unsubstantiated opinions, presented as if they were scientifically credible.

 

The Threat of Attractive Hypotheses

Many ideas are attractive and gain acceptance because they are attractive, even if they are not supported by science.

 

Wishful thinking is not a strong basis for management.

 

If an idea is repeated often enough, it may become ‘dogma’, even without scientific underpinnings.

If something is said often enough and loud enough, with enough conviction, at least some people will begin to believe it.

 

Despite the best available science, many people believe that their lawns ‘need’ mowing and their shrubs ‘need’ pruning.

Belsky (1987) found that many plant ecologists believed that mowing stimulated growth of their lawns.

 

While there have been many carefully designed scientific studies that refute the claims of Allan Savory concerning impacts (and benefits) of livestock (e.g., those reviewed in Holechek et al. 2000), Savory’s claims are attractive to many ranchers and land managers, and have gained acceptance.

 

When MYTHS become attractive, they can gain acceptance – unless we force public land management agency to use BEST AVAILABLE SCIENCE.

 

If there aren’t references, question it.

If most or all of the references are from ‘gray’ or ‘popular’ literature, question it.

If the statements seem iffy, question it.

 

How can one tell if PUBLIC LAND management projects will work?

The short answer: IT’S THE SCIENCE!!!

 

A lot of what is showing up in NEPA, ESA documents

Is not supported by science

Is ‘supported’ by junk science

 

Become familiar with good science and good scientists.

Get to know a few scientists you can trust --- including ones that won’t always  tell you what you want to hear.

 

Junk science

 Union of Concerned Scientists [March 2000] has defined ‘junk science’ as “results that, while presented as legitimate science, fall outside the rigors of the scientific method and the peer review process.

It can take the form of presentation of selective results, politically-motivated distortions of scientifically sound papers, or the publishing of quasi-scientific non-reviewed journals. At its worst, junk science is opinion and speculation being lent undeserved respectability by scientists financially supported by self-interested lobby groups trying to confound the real scientific debate….

This definition does not, however, imply that criticism of scientific orthodoxy is illegitimate or inappropriate. Junk science does not include well-formulated, testable hypotheses from honest researchers challenging the majority viewpoint, nor peer-reviewed results that don't conform to that consensus. Indeed, these normal scientific inquiries may modify, even replace, the current paradigm and, ultimately, advance our understanding….” 

 

Learn the jargon.

 

 

A Few Public Lands Management Myths [from range publications, NEPA, ESA, other public documents, etc.]

MYTH:    The public should accept on faith that public land managers are familiar with and use ‘best available science’. References are not needed in management and NEPA documents, and may be inappropriate for the general public.

MYTH:    ‘Best available science’ (as required under Endangered Species Act, Council on Environmental Quality regulations, etc.) is whatever the management agency want it to be.  The agency need not evaluate additional or alternative scientific information provided by the public.

MYTH:    Grazing is a natural process in all plant communities [grazing vs. herbivory]

MYTH:    One species of herbivore can be substituted for another

MYTH:    The extinction of paleo-ungulates and destruction of native ungulates left ‘empty niches’ that livestock fill

MYTH:    Domestic livestock are surrogates for paleo-ungulates

MYTH:    Paleo-bison were grazers

MYTH:    The fossil record provides evidence of large herds of Pleistocene ungulate grazers west of the Rocky Mountains

MYTH:    Most of the public lands in the West can support livestock without significant negative impact

MYTH:    Some species of plants (at the whole plant level, not just fruits or seeds) benefit from being grazed or browsed

MYTH:    Being eaten is the only threat to plants from livestock [if a plant is not palatable, it will not be impacted by livestock]

MYTH:    Livestock feed primarily on herbaceous plants (particularly grass), so they do not impact woody vegetation

MYTH:    Many species of plants are 'adapted' to grazing

MYTH:    Grasses and grazers have 'co-evolved'

MYTH:    Grasslands 'evolved' with grazers, and are therefore 'adapted' to them

MYTH:    Livestock frequently increase biodiversity [native vs. total]

MYTH:    There are large areas of the arid and semi-arid West that are naturally without cryptobiotic crust

MYTH:    Livestock have limited impact on cryptobiotic crust, mycorrhizae, etc.

MYTH:    Livestock impacts on soils are minimal

MYTH:    The erosion occurring in the West is natural, and not related to livestock

MYTH:    Uniform utilization by livestock is generally attainable

MYTH:    Moving livestock upland away from wetlands is sufficient to protect sensitive habitat

MYTH:    Livestock are effective tools for controlling weeds

MYTH:    Livestock are not significant weed vectors

MYTH:    Livestock are not significant disease vectors (plant or animal)

MYTH:    Livestock have a positive impact on nutrients and nutrient distribution

MYTH:    Livestock dung is an important mechanism for redistributing nutrients

MYTH:    Livestock are effective tools to reduce fire

MYTH:    Livestock are an effective surrogate for fire

MYTH:    Some alien species have become so pervasive that we need to consider them ‘new natives’

MYTH:    ‘Range improvements’ benefit native species and have few (if any) negative impacts

MYTH:    Most management programs include adequate and appropriate monitoring

MYTH:    We know the impacts of grazing and not grazing (including impacts of sudden changes in management)

MYTH:    Current non-grazed areas are adequate for valid data collection and comparison to grazed areas

MYTH:    Not range scientists and managers, foresters, The Nature Conservancy, Allan Savory and disciples, RangeNet, nor any other group or individual has all the answers for public land management

MYTH:    Public land managers are obliged [through directives] to ‘meet the demand for forage produced’

MYTH:    Mitigation measures specified in a management or NEPA document are flexible, and need not be met if funding is not available

 

References