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Bristol Bay fisheries expert denied role on Pebble's Keystone panel
Posted 10.5.12 by Renewable Resources Coalition
In late September, a Colorado firm named scientists to serve on Anchorage panels to review studies, prepared by the Pebble Limited Partnership, to show that large-scale mines can co-exist with fisheries in the Bristol Bay watershed.
Among the five scientists selected by The Keystone Center, of Keystone, Colo., for the Oct. 9-10 panel on fish, wildlife and habitat was Daniel Schindler, a professor with the University of Washington's School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences.
Then Schindler, considered one of the world's foremost experts on the Bristol Bay wild salmon fishery, was abruptly dismissed.
This article was written on deadline on the eve of the fish, wildlife and habitat panel. The Cordova Times will carry an account of that panel discussion in the next issue.
"Regrettably, it looks like your public opinion articles on Pebble have cast doubts about your ability to objectively review the baseline studies," said Todd Bryan, senior associate of The Keystone Center, in a Sept. 25 email to Schindler.
Keystone is the Colorado-based firm hired by the Pebble Limited Partnership to organize events to explain Pebble's research to the public. Keystone spokesman Todd Bryant said Keystone is being paid less than $1 million over a four-year period, with "a big chunk" of that money going to pay travel expenses.
"This is unfortunate because our science advisory committee, while acknowledging your opposition to Pebble, believes you will be nothing but objective in your review of the baseline studies. Unfortunately, many of the people we are trying to reach through the independent science review process will immediately discount your review, unless it is positively glowing, Bryan wrote.
"In the interest of avoiding that situation, we have very reluctantly decided to disqualify you from the panel."
Several days later, in a separate email to Samuel Snyder, director of the Bristol Bay fisheries and watershed protection campaign for the Alaska Conservation Foundation, Bryan claimed that Schindler was disqualified because The Keystone Center felt Schindler was not going to provide an unbiased review.
That Sept. 28 email began with Bryan acknowledging to Snyder that another panelist, University of Washington Professor David Montgomery, withdrew himself from another of the panels because Montgomery found the process flawed, because, in Bryan's words, "he could not review Pebble's mine plan when evaluating the baseline studies. I'm not sure I understand his logic …" Bryan wrote.
With regard to Schindler, "some of his exchanges with me after the decision to DQ him indicate a much stronger bias than we thought. I mention this because there's a movement to use his disqualification to discredit the Keystone process.
"Before you all decide to go down that path I would like to share them with you (if you're not going down that path I won't share them.) I think you would agree that his bias could get in the way of him giving an objective review."
Schindler meanwhile sent an email to a group of scientists and others opposed to development of the massive Pebble mine at the headwaters of the Bristol Bay watershed.
"I will stand by the op-eds I've written as a reflection of objective scientific assessment of the information in hand regarding the risks to ecosystems and fisheries from the scale of mining they are proposing," Schindler wrote on Sept. 28, in an email to scientists and others engaged in stopping the Pebble mine.
Yet in response to media inquires as to why Schindler's name was removed from the panel list, Bryan wrote "he had to disqualify him because of a strong perceived bias against Pebble."
Bryan said that Keystone follows National Research Council policies regarding bias and conflict of interest "and we found after we selected Daniel that he had written a couple of op-ed pieces that violate the bias policy."
Bryan quoted National Research Council policy stating "…it is essential that the work of committees that are used by the institution in the development of reports not be compromised by issues of bias and lack of objectivity."
The exchange of emails between Bryan and Schindler made available for this article dates back to Sept. 20, when Bryan wrote to Schindler saying that The Keystone Center needed to confirm "that there are no conflicts of interest or biases that may influence your objective review of the baseline studies."
Bryan said the query was triggered by an article on the Crosscut website in June linked to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's assessment of how development of a large scale mine might impact the area's habitat.
Schindler co-authored the article with Norm Van Vactor, general manager for Leader Creek Fisheries, which exclusively sources and sells Bristol Bay sockeye salmon. The article notes that according to an EPA report, the proposal to mine for gold and copper near Bristol Bay would "be bad news for salmon populations ---and Seattle's fishing economy."
The bottom line from the EPA's report, wrote Schindler and Van Vactor, "is that large-scale mining poses a significant threat to the long-term health of the watersheds that support this fishery…
"There is clear evidence that mining activities and the infrastructure development needed to support these activities pose significant long-term risks to productive salmon ecosystems," the article said.
Under the Clean Water Act, the EPA can restrict the disposal of mine waste in Bristol Bay's waters if the science shows it will harm the ecosystems.
"Those of us who study, catch and eat Bristol Bay salmon urge the agency to move forward from here to protect Bristol Bay and its tributaries, thereby protecting the fisheries, livelihoods, wildlife, cultures and businesses that depend upon them," Schindler and Van Vactor concluded.
In response to being dismissed from the panel, Schindler said in a Sept. 24 email to Bryan "cynically, I can feel nothing more than being un-surprised. Of course 'the industry' fears to have anyone who knows anything about these ecosystems on the panel Instead they want a panel of uninformed (i.e. 'objective') scientists who will have to dig and dig and dig through 30 thousand pages of BS to figure out what their 'baseline' really is."
Bryan's response, in a Sept. 25 email to Schindler: "We're doing the same thing on both sides and we're not claiming that one side is more immune from advocacy than the other. All we can do is follow the same procedures for all potential panel members."
According to Bryan, a woman named LeeAnn Munk, a University of Alaska Anchorage geochemist, was disqualified because Pebble is funding her geology department at UAA. But, Bryan said, Tom Myers, a professional geologist, a senior project manager with Sovereign Consulting Inc., in the greater New York City area, was included on the geology panel even though he has consulted with advocacy organizations who are fighting mining projects in Alaska and other regions.
"He hasn't taken a public position on Pebble or any other mining project to my knowledge. It's certainly not a perfect system," he said.