Professional Ethics & Advocacy

Politics and the difficulties of passing conflicting information up supervisory chains often undermine science within institutions employing fishery and wildlife managers and scientists. In such cases, employees feel threatened if they fail to acquiesce. Supervisors may feel threatened by the conflicting information. However, positive alternatives exist for resolving such dilemmas. We explore those options via examples from managers and scientists who favored scientific truth over politics yet maintained their employment and made positive changes. This session is stimulated by the essential nature of troublemakers or questioners in all institutions.

8:00AM Ethical-Bias Issues in State Agencies: Science, “Isms” Vs. Human Diversity, and Effectiveness of Natural-Resources Management
  Robert Vadas
At the 2015 AFS-Portland meeting (see, I addressed ethical biases that compromise instream-flow management (IFM), using my experience around North America. This sequel addresses more-recent IFM concerns in Washington state. This began with my (a) long-time boss retiring and (b) loss of research funding from our sister agency, where a long-term nemesis resides. Later, funding also disappeared (before completion) for my holistic toe-width report, which was meant to complement a published article (see that I had critiqued a draft of. Tied in all this was my reporting of sexual harassment within my then-section, which wasn’t properly resolved because the behaviors continued (requiring a second reporting that initially languished). So I wasn’t able to return to that section in leadership or technical roles, including an early closing for a relevant job that I planned to apply for (but got reopened). When accused of misogyny for two disagreements, one being the female leader who (ironically) was ignoring the sexual harassment, I exonerated myself through WDFW policy. Since then, the confrontational HR employee left WDFW and I negotiated funding for IFM issues on the Olympic Peninsula, including ‘out-of-kind’ (indirect) hydrologic mitigation via invasive-plant removal, to try saving an imperiled, landlocked-trout run.
8:20AM Building Futures and Advancing Science through Ethical Foundations
  Jim Burroughs
Individuals who choose to work in the conservation field seldom do it for the money. It’s a calling more than just a career. Yet, for a calling we often approach science and fishery management with a passionless cavalier approach. We often hold our research in such regard to never consider that other’s ideas could benefit our own. We fail to acknowledge that what we are doing is for the resource and not personal gain. ‘Legacy’ means different things to different people. Individual, family, agency, scientific legacy, and the variables that we would list as important components of a legacy, vary. Our science, our professional ethic, our attitudes, and how we prepare younger scientists is the legacy we as scientists will leave fisheries. Not planning for the legacy we want is planning for one we don’t. Legacies are formed each day instead of magically appearing at the end of your career. Common overlooked behavior or actions can be seen as neglect or disregard. Becoming aware of our shortcomings and challenges, both personal and professional, is the first step to becoming the leader you want to be and preparing for the legacy you want to leave fishery science.
8:40AM The Questionable Ethics of Exporting Fisheries Science and Assistance Abroad
  Cleve Steward, Danielle A. Reich
The American Fisheries Society has recently taken steps to promote the concepts of inclusivity, diversity, and ethical conduct within the organization. The resulting guidelines and pronouncements make explicit the values and behaviors we are expected to adhere to as fisheries professionals. This presentation extends these concepts to include our interactions with and treatment of people whose cultures and values differ from our own. Given the global reach of fisheries science and its importance to international food security, what principles should guide our actions when we work across geographic and cultural borders? A person or entity that “exports” their expertise has an obligation that goes far beyond the moral imperatives of enhancing human welfare and protecting ecosystems. They must also have humility in the face of traditions and history they do not fully understand, as well as respect for the initiative and individual rights of the people they serve. We should not automatically assume that our scientific and technological “remedies” are superior to local approaches or free from cultural, ideological, or political biases. We examine these issues in the context of fisheries science assistance provided by governmental agencies, private entities, and non-profit organizations to people and at-risk communities around the globe.
9:00AM What Is “Agenda-Driven” Science? a Case Study Pertaining to the Spotted Owl, Wildland Fire, and Logging
  Chad Hanson
Wildlife scientists employed by federal agencies often experience challenges incorporating new science into analyses and decisions, when the new science may prove unwelcome to an agency. An extension of this problem can occur when scientists funded/employed by federal agencies work on behalf of those agencies to target and criticize independent, non-agency scientists who are questioning the scientific accuracy or integrity of agency decisions and land-management policies, and publishing scientific evidence that may run counter to an agency’s economic and political imperatives. As a forest ecologist, I will address this problem within the framework of a case example pertaining to spotted owls, wildland fire, and logging. I will discuss the competing management incentives and obligations facing federal land management agencies like the U.S. Forest Service and BLM, including incentives pertaining to commercial logging on federal lands. I will also explore how such conflicts can sometimes manifest as attempts to suppress independent scientists. In addition, I will contextualize the issue, discussing how numerous important scientific advances in wildlife ecology have been facilitated by the willingness of independent scientists to challenge problematic conclusions and proposals by federal agencies and their scientists regarding spotted owls, wildland fire, and logging.
9:20AM Filtering, Distortion, and Colonization of Scientific Information in the Policy and Politics of Fishery Conservation.
  Christopher Frissell, Sarah L. O’Neal
Dissatisfaction abounds regarding the application of science to decision-making. Here we identify concepts explaining how science is manipulated in fishery management and conservation. Three categories of organizational processes help explain the manipulation of science, reducing its impact on decision-making: filtering, starvation, and “colonization“ (the opposite of starvation). Together, these processes insulate the public from scientific understanding by limiting flow of information. The result directly conflicts with public expectations of professional ethics in resource science. Regardless, many scientists consciously or unwittingly facilitate these dysfunctions. We offer personal examples to illustrate how all institutions—governmental, non-governmental, and academic—are vulnerable to these dynamics. We postulate that most useful science today goes unutilized. Given decentralization of the news media as an independent source of information, we propose a solution in the form of an independent scientific NGO supported by an active communications arm. The goal of such an NGO is to offer independent scientific advice and review of programs and projects. The NGO would short-circuit bureaucratic control and avoid policy, political, or business entanglements that tend to compromise science. We hypothesize the power of this model increases in direct proportion to the degree to which existing institutions suppress scientific information and expert knowledge.
09:40AM Break
1:10PM Representing Science: Why Sometimes Observing Is Not Enough and Techniques for Weighing in
  Leanne Roulson
Classic science education suggests that the Scientist is an observer who documents what she sees, but does not interpret or tell others how to use what is observed. Although this classical model fits the scientific method, it implies that scientists should avoid contributing to or evaluating policy. The realm of policy is messy and can be much more subjective. It mixes scientific information with societal values, biases, and political agendas. However, policy is often how science gets funded, promoted or demoted, and directly affects research and on-the-ground projects. Ignoring policy and hoping that our science will “speak for itself” can lead to situations where damage control becomes the focus after our work is misunderstood or misrepresented. We will cover some real-life examples of how to engage proactively in policy and address some common pitfalls and misconceptions about engagement. We will also discuss some ways to deal with scientific misrepresentation (fake science) and how to improve the odds of connecting with your audience.
1:30PM Thirty Years Swimming Upstream As an Onsite U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Contractor
  Robert Hughes
I went to work for the USEPA in 1978, 6 years after passage of the Clean Water Act and formation of the Agency. At that time, EPA employees were dominated by senior scientists and managers largely focused on engineering and chemical solutions for improving water body condition. Newer concepts (e.g., biological criteria, monitoring, & assessment; ecoregions; physical habitat, flow regime, & landscape alteration; riverscape fragmentation; climate change) were largely ignored or actively resisted, as is typical in all institutions. Based on successes in seeing those issues receive markedly greater Agency attention, I have four suggestions for professionals receiving similar resistance from their institutions’ leaders: 1) conduct research with like-minded individuals in other institutions; 2) present that research at professional meetings; 3) publish that research in scientific journals; 4) collaborate with NGOs; and 5) assume leadership roles in professional societies. Examples from each are presented.
1:50PM The View from the Trenches: Perspectives and Advice from a Professional Scientist Advocate
  Christina Swanson
Scientists share a growing awareness that biological resources and the ecosystems that support them (and us) are increasingly threatened by human activities. To address the disconnect between risks revealed by our scientific findings and current environmental management, there is growing desire among scientists to engage more directly in policy development and advocacy. However, contrary to our own science bias, environmental policies—even “evidence-based” policies—are not solely based on research quality or compelling scientific results. They are constrained by legal and social contexts, shaped by strategy, framing and communication, and strengthened by collaboration and coalitions. To be ethical and successful advocates, scientists need to understand the context and role of science in policy and the specific problem at issue, and select and use effective practices to inform, guide or challenge policy decisions. I will share some of my experiences from 20 years as an environmental non-profit scientist and address questions that are foremost in the minds of scientists considering stepping into the policy arena: How do you maintain your scientific integrity and credibility? What do policy makers want to know? What contributions can scientists make to policy development? And when and how does collaboration advance your objectives and efforts.
2:10PM Science and the Public Interest: Empowering Advocates through Communication and Collaboration
  Mary Scurlock
As a veteran freshwater conservation advocate on behalf of public interest conservation organizations, Mary has relied on independent and government experts in a variety of ways in state and federal of policy forums. This presentation draws from experience to explore two main themes: 1) Establishment of open lines of communication between government scientists and advocates can help prevent politically-motivated suppression of controversial data or expert findings and/or expose such interference to public scrutiny; 2) Collaboration between subject-matter experts to clearly enunciate areas of scientific consensus can help promote understanding of ecological problems and facilitate associated policy decisions, countering special interest use of science to confuse and obfuscate.
2:30PM For Sustainable Fisheries We Need Family Planning
  Lee Miller
A sustainable civilization and sustainable fisheries are both desirable. How can we assure that this happens? The world human population is currently 7.7 billion and grows at 80 million per year. Population is projected to reach 9.77 billion in 2050 and 11.18 billion in 2100. Would we not be better off if population size was stable at a level supportable by our biological resources? Yet, most economists and politicians advocate for endless growth on a finite planet, and some pundits deplore the birth dearth in Europe and Japan. Unfortunately, few in power understand the basics of ecology, such as carrying capacity. Malthusian theory has been delayed by the production of food by fossil fuels. Other threats related to population growth are nuclear weapons and climate change. Family planning is the provision of an educational and comprehensive medical and social environment which enables all individuals to determine freely the number and spacing of their children. Fertility rates have declined in the world over the past 70 years as recognition of family planning as a human right has increased. However, assuring that everyone has access to gender equality, education and contraception has not been achieved with 214 million still lacking access.
2:50PM Refreshment Break
3:20PM Overconsumption of Natural Resource – Problems and Solutions
  Chuck Knutson
Sustainability of natural resources is the ability to perpetuate existence long term. The environmental carrying capacity of a species is the maximum population that the environment can support indefinitely, given that the necessary food, habitat, water, and other requirements are met. Natural resource overconsumption is occurring for water, fish, wildlife, and forest products, and exceeds the ability of the environment to replace them. Some symptoms of overconsumption include deforestation, overfishing, climate change, loss of native species and biodiversity, soil erosion, air and water pollution, and energy, water, and food shortages. According to the Global Footprint Network, we are consuming at a rate of 1.7 planets annually and are rapidly approaching global ecological overshoot, depleting the very resources that human life and biodiversity depend. Our addiction to consumerism and reliance on technology makes it difficult to extricate ourselves from this dilemma. Since total consumption is a product of per capita consumption and the number of consumers, both factors need to be addressed. A stable population with reduced average per capita consumption is needed, but is difficult to achieve, given the current growth model used by many economists. Raising public awareness of wasteful resource consumption and ways to reduce waste is critical.
3:40PM Economic Growth: The 800-Pound Gorilla at National Wildlife Refuge System Headquarters
  Brian Czech
The Wildlife Society (TWS) adopted a position on economic growth in 2004 and revised it in 2011 to describe “the conflict between economic growth and wildlife conservation.” This conflict was a focus of my Ph.D. in the 1990’s, and I brought my expertise in ecological economics to the headquarters of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) when I signed on as Conservation Biologist with the National Wildlife Refuge System in 1999. Early on, I developed several approaches to raising public awareness of the conflict, but Refuge System leadership changed and all talk of economic growth was gradually eliminated. For me, merely mentioning economics was prohibited by 2011. Reasons included: ignorance of ecological economics; unwillingness to adapt to big-picture, long-term issues; political fear, and; protection of privileged Refuge System lifestyles. Methods of suppression included gag orders, reprimands, suspensions, narrowing of duties, and poor office facilities. Low-grade corruption was common, and arguably abuse of authority, First Amendment violation, and fiscal waste. TWS and the American Fisheries Society could have played a key role in helping FWS develop some expertise in ecological economics and in exhorting FWS (and other agencies) to help raise awareness of the conflict between economic growth and conservation.
4:00PM Panel Discussion

Organizers: Robert Hughes

Location: Reno-Sparks CC Date: September 30, 2019 Time: 8:00 am - 5:00 pm