Lawmaker Seeks Probe of Logging Study

Rep. Jay Inslee, D-Wash., called for an investigation into why federal funding was suspended for a study that goes against White House-supported legislation to speed up logging after wildfires in national forests.

GRANTS PASS, Ore. — Questioning whether the Bush administration is manipulating science for political ends, Rep. Jay Inslee, D-Wash., called Tuesday for an inspector general's investigation into why federal funding was suspended for a study that goes against White House-supported legislation to speed up logging after wildfires in national forests.

In a letter and a speech on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives, Inslee called for an investigation by the inspector general of the U.S. Department of Interior into whether the U.S. Bureau of Land Management was punishing researchers from Oregon State University for coming up with findings that don't fit with White House policy goals.

"Unfortunately, it's very apparent to most neutral observers that under this administration in a variety of ways that the scientific process has been corrupted by political influence," Inslee said in a telephone interview. "We saw that when the administration and their political forces tried to shackle distribution of information by the chief climate scientist in the United States, Dr. James Hansen, two weeks ago."

Hansen, director of the Goddard Space Institute, has said the Bush administration tried to stop him from talking about global warming since he gave a lecture last month calling for prompt reductions in emissions of greenhouse gases.

"There is a very quiet non-threatening but nonetheless growing concern in the scientific community about this administration's distrust of the scientific process," Inslee added. "It goes back to Galileo being punished for his views. We can't go back to those days."

The study, which found salvage logging killed naturally regenerated seedlings and increased, in the short term, the amount of fuel on the ground to feed future fires, was embraced by environmentalists fighting a House bill to speed salvage logging on national forests after wildfires and other disasters.

BLM acknowledged Monday that it asked OSU whether the three-year study led by graduate student Daniel Donato and published last month in the journal Science violated provisions of a $307,000 federal fire research grant that prohibits using any of the funds to lobby Congress and requires that a BLM scientist be consulted before the research is published.

Donald Kennedy, editor in chief of Science, has said editors at the magazine were responsible for including a reference to pending legislation in supplemental material posted online, and that the researchers had asked them to remove it.

BLM Oregon spokesman Chris Strebig said the decision to suspend funding was purely a question of whether researchers had followed the terms of their contract, and the decision was made in the Oregon office by Kathy Eaton, deputy director for management services, a career employee.

"We would cooperate fully with that process," Strebig said of any investigation that may develop. "We feel like the assistance agreement was reviewed and we identified just a couple concerns. We asked OSU to respond to that. We are in that period of waiting to hear back, and we would resolve those concerns with Oregon State University and move ahead."

OSU is to produce its response Thursday, said OSU Vice President Luanne Lawrence.

The director of the Joint Fire Science Program in Boise, Erik Berg, has said he has never heard of this kind of inquiry before into research funded by the federal program.

Calls to the White House and the White House Council on Environmental Quality for comment were not immediately returned.

Source: Associated Press

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