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Searching for sound science

Published Feb. 5, 2004

Science workshop continues focus on sucker ecology, water


Just the facts.

That's the target for all the probing, sampling, testing and observation going on around the Klamath Basin by federal, state and private scientists.

How scientists can set priorities and coordinate their efforts was the theme Wednesday on the second day of the four-day Upper Klamath Basin Science Workshop at the Shilo Inn.

Scientists who study sucker ecology gathered in one room, while scientists who study the flow of water into the lakes where suckers live huddled in another. In both rooms, they were searching for agreement and debating points of contention.

Dennis Lynch, district chief for the U.S. Geological Survey, said the purpose of the conference is to get a sense of what the to-do list should be for the Basin.

"We are trying to get the facts sorted out," he said.

If the facts are jumbled, confusion and debate paralyzes the process of trying to find solutions, he said.

"We are going to try to get some sense of the priorities for the managers here," Lynch said.

Throughout the conference, participants are jotting down needs and facts that need to be found, examined or clarified, and are submitting notes to conference organizers. Friday, ballots will be handed out to rank the identified needs.

Although he doesn't know when the results of the ballot will be compiled, Lynch said they could help guide the search for sound science in the Basin. He said having good solid science that most researchers agree on is the best way to bring scientists with differing views on the issues together.

"That is the foundation that it will be all based on," Lynch said.

But first, the scientists need to agree on research methods.

Researchers know much more about the Basin than they did a decade ago, said Stan Gregory, an Oregon State University fisheries professor.

"The information is increasing, and the tools are increasing," Gregory said.

But the questions keep coming.

He said it helps when scientists working on the same issues can come together and talk about what their work at conferences like the one this week.

"It's just like when you have a disagreement with your neighbor about their tree hanging over the fence - just being mad doesn't help," he said. "What is it about the tree that makes you mad?"

What is it about the facts that makes consensus on issues elusive?

That is one of the things that needs to be worked on and clarified for many issues, said Gregory, who was a member of Independent Multidisciplinary Science Team. The team was assembled by former Gov. John Kitzhaber to advise the state of Oregon on science matters. Last fall, it issued a controversial report about the Basin.

Larry Dunsmoor, chief biologist for the Klamath Tribes, said issues in the Basin are so complex because they are unique to the system. Many of them can't be solved by reading through texts and literature.

On-the-ground tests and research needs to be done.

"We are going to have to figure a lot of this stuff out here, for this system," Dunsmoor said.

Certain areas of disagreement, such as lake levels and methods of counting suckers, will probably be voted as priorities in Friday's balloting, Lynch said.

But getting the priorities set and facts in line will just be a start, because there will still be social, economical and political issues.

Lynch said the scientists working on Basin issues meet once every six months to a year in the Basin. Doing so gives them a chance to meet with the people who depend on the science and see first-hand what all the numbers, charts and data really mean.

"We need to be reminded that there are real consequences to the stuff we are trying to sort," Lynch said.

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