Science Committee Update and Ramblings

By Dan Thompson, Science Committee Chair

Science ≠ Speculation

Strange Days Have Found Us…I wrestled back and forth with the appropriate tone for this update after receiving news from a federal judge that the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE) grizzly bear population was being “relisted.” While this decision was not necessarily a surprise to many scientists that have devoted time to recover a species or population, the fact that a judiciary entity can conduct their own analysis and interpretation of peer-reviewed literature to refute said literature and use that to make a ruling is a bit unnerving to the scientific community. Some may argue I’m biased, BUT that is the beauty of the scientific method. Despite the wailing in the streets and gnashing of teeth, the proposal to delist GYE grizzly bears, or any other animal/plant/population for that matter, has nothing to do with opinion or political pressure. This particular population was proposed for delisting based on the biological merits and data gathered in studying the population over 4 decades, and delisted based on meeting preapproved recovery criteria and going through a public comment process. Even the judge did not refute that grizzly bears are biologically recovered, because that is based on fact and peer reviewed science. Mainstream media and the mistrusting masses are quick to decry agency and university managers and researchers alike that present information that is in opposition to their beliefs, arguably creating a new niche for advocacy groups and conspiracy theorists to project their opinions with some data and much speculation as “science.” As my Grandmother used to say opinions are like anuses, everyone has them and, well she was a funny and amazing woman. Regardless, “publishing” an opinion sprinkled with a dusting of data does not a science sandwich make, and the last time I checked a blog or op-ed piece does not count as the final step of the scientific method regarding peer reviewed publication of results. Science is meant to be replicated, and refuted, and questioned – but this is not the land of make believe, there are rules.

As for our devoted band of misfits, the Science Committee provided review, edits, and insight into the Wyoming Draft Resource Management Plan Amendment (RMPA) and Draft Environmental Impact Statement from the Bureau of Land Management (a bunch more acronyms). As you all know, Wyoming is at the forefront of conservation efforts for sage grouse and sagebrush habitats and thanks to the work of many in our State Chapter of TWS, our voice ‒ your voice ‒ is being heard at a national level. From our cover letter of the review:  “Because of the monumental efforts that have and continue to occur in regards to sage grouse research, monitoring and conservation in Wyoming, it is imperative that local scientific basis occurs in moving forward with projects that may impact the species...”

Dan Thompson is the Large Carnivore Section Supervisor for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, where he oversees the State’s mountain lion, wolf, and grizzly and black bear management and research.