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Science team comes under fire

By MITCH LIES Oregon Staff Writer

SALEM – Natural resource groups last week in a meeting before an Oregon legislative interim committee called for the state’s science review panel to be more open to the public.

The Oregon Farm Bureau, Oregon Cattlemen’s Association and the Oregon Forest Industries Council asked that subcommittee meetings of the Independent Multidisciplinary Science Team be open to the public and that draft documents be subject to review in testimony Sept. 9 before the House Interim Committee on Agriculture and Natural Resources.

“We just think there should be more transparency involved in the process,” said

The groups also asked that the team direct their findings to the state Legislature instead of to a core group led by Gov. Ted Kulongoski’s Natural Resource Policy Adviser Jim Myron that in turn funnels the information to state agencies. Directing findings to the Legislature, Wells said, would add accountability and transparency.

In addition, the working group concluded that the IMST should not make policy recommendations to state agencies, but instead concentrate on policy review.

“Our position is it should be the Legislature making policy recommendations to agencies,” said Katie Fast, associate director of government affairs for the Oregon Farm Bureau.

The IMST bases its operations on a charter developed by the Oregon Legislature when it formed the team in 1997. The charter is patterned after other science review panels such as the National Academy of Sciences and is funded by the state.

The groups, who studied the workings of the team in a working group formed by Rep. Bob Jenson, R-Pendleton, also asked for a 60-day public comment period after the team publishes a final draft and asked that the team respond to the comments in published papers.

The requests were triggered in part by a May report from IMST in which the team concluded that the state’s existing temperature standards for streams are appropriate. Representatives of the natural resource groups said those conclusions – that stream temperatures should not exceed 68 degrees F and that shade is a major factor influencing stream temperature – are remiss.

The natural resource groups contend that Oregon’s streams and rivers have supported fish populations for decades with temperatures above 68 degrees and that shade is only a minor factor in influencing water temperature.

“If they had come out and said this is our opinion, then we would have no problem with the report,” said Micah Wells, government relations director of the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association. “But it is being perceived as the best available science out there, and we don’t believe it is.”

Wells added that the groups are concerned “that there could be some policy implications to this and that we’ll be stuck with some standards we could never adhere to.”

Stan Gregory, co-chairman of the IMST, said the team probably will agree to opening subcommittee meetings to the public. But Gregory said he expects the team will oppose releasing draft documents to the public.

“We think this could lead to confusion,” he said, noting that draft findings often get changed several times before the team settles on a final draft.

Gregory pointed out that operations of similar advisory panels such as the National Academy of Sciences typically don’t allow for public comments following the release of findings. Therefore, he didn’t think the IMST would agree to that request.

Gregory said the team would address issues brought forward last week in its next meeting, Sept. 23 at Richardson Hall on the Oregon State University campus in Corvallis.

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