March 23, 2012

Guest Column: Review and use of the science used for ORV plan


The public has a right to question and understand the facts about the “science” given as the justification for denial of public access to much of the shoreline at the Cape Hatteras National Seashore Recreational Area.

It is important for government officials and the public to understand how to identify valid science and how best to integrate it into policymaking.

“Best available science” is represented as research conducted by qualified individuals using documented methodologies that lead to verifiable results and conclusions. Opening up the so-called “best available science” to in-depth public review and questioning is the most important thing any of us can do to bring equity and clarity to the access issue.

The lack of public understanding and transparency about the science and the misapplication of science are causing a tremendous amount of beach access loss, public anxiety, social tension, distrust of government, and economic loss.

Until the public feels confident that the federal government is managing the seashore in an equitable manner based on sound unbiased science, it will not trust the government or buy into a final plan.

We cannot manage what we do not understand.  That is why responsible environmental management policy must always consider sound science.

All substantive environmental management and policy begins with a basic understanding of how the environment works but also recognizes the limitations and boundaries of science.

Science answers the question “how?” Science explains how the environment is structured and how it functions. A science is a specific body of knowledge derived from the scientific method. Through the scientific method, we discover, replicate experiments, or demonstrate facts.

The scientific method forces us to go beyond personal opinion and political correctness.

The scientific method centers on a process known as hypothesis testing.  It is a procedure in which we conjecture possibilities (hypothesize); design and execute an experiment to test the hypothesis; make and measure observations; collect and analyze data; and draw conclusions whereby we accept or reject the hypothesis.

In all sciences, particularly wildlife science, there are many uncertainties, data gaps, and limited observations.  These limitations always need to be disclosed as part of the scientific process, especially when the “science” is used as the basis for regulation.

We, the public, have lost control of our government and our precious national seashore.  To restore access, we need to create a public record of concerns and scientific fact. We need to present that information formally to our government decision-makers and elected lawmakers to make sure there is balanced and equitable access and use of our national seashore.

The National Park Service is well advised to begin immediately to establish an independent advisory body, much along the lines of the National Academy of Sciences and charter that body to:

Review and comment on the strengths, weaknesses, and limitations of the key studies used to make closure decisions as required by any ORV management plan.

Explain specifically how the science is used to calculate or justify closure boundary distances for various species to demonstrate that they are not mere opinions or arbitrary management actions.

Recommend adaptive management options that might allow a better balance of public access and species protection based on their unbiased review of the science.

(Dr. Michael A.  Berry served as any Army officer in Vietnam in the 1960s.  After returning to civilian life, he earned a Doctorate in Public Health and worked in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, where, as a senior manager and scientist, he served as the Deputy Director of National Center for Environmental Assessment at Research Triangle Park, N.C. During his 28-year career with EPA, he had extensive interactions with environmental organizations, local governments, the federal courts, U.S. Congress, universities worldwide, and institutions, such as the National Academy of Sciences, the World Health Organization, and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. For more than 20 years, Dr. Berry taught public health, environmental science, and business and environment courses at the University of North Carolina.  He is currently a writer and part-time consultant, specializing in the evaluation of environmental quality and human health effects, environmental management strategies and policy. You can read more of his writing at

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