Wednesday, June 04, 2008

USGS: educate but not advocate

USGS Director Mark Myers told an Arizona Geological Society meeting in Tucson last night that credible scientific baseline studies are essential to making rational decisions about our environment, lands, and resources. He noted there are strongly competing interests for multiple uses of lands, including energy, minerals, agriculture, water, recreation, preservation, and natural habitat.

He told the crowd of about 50 that humans already modify 40-50% of the ice-free land and use 54% of the available fresh water of the globe.

The U.S. has never done an integrated census of our surface and ground waters, and it's been 30 years since any water census was done.

In 2003, the last year we have data for, the U.S. produced 3,000 million tons of minerals, mostly aggregates and building materials. In China, the government doubled the size of the geological survey to deal with the increasing demands for resources and the environmental issues. In the U.S., we are reducing the size of the USGS minerals program.

Mark sees a change in philosophy starting to emerge in Washington; that political leaders are seeing environmental security (in the broad sense) strategically important. However, that has not translated into funding for agencies like USGS.

Tim Marsh, with Bell Resources, challenged Mark during the Q&A session, over the USGS' role as taking a broad-based view of the environment. He questioned why USGS is not serving as an advocate for mineral development.

Mark argued back that land management agencies need reliable baseline ecosystem data to allow mining to go forward, and USGS can provide that if they are not viewed as biased. Land managers need integrated scientific information to decide among competing interests.

The USGS role is to educate, but not advocate positions to decision makers. Well-intentioned, but poorly informed lawmakers are at risk of making bad decisions unless they have peer-reviewed, credible baseline scientific results to work from.

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