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MLPA Officials refused to Include Tribal scientists in process

MLPA Officials refused to Include Tribal scientists in process

by Dan Bacher

One of the most persistent myths promulgated by advocates of the privately-funded Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative is that the so-called "marine protected areas" created under the process are "based on science."

However, the "science" that the MLPA is based on is extremely shaky. In the 7 years since Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger privatized the process by directing the Department of Fish and Game to sign a Memorandum of Understanding with the shadowy Resources Legacy Foundation, MLPA officials have refused to consult with Tribal scientists and integrate Tribal knowledge into the process.

No Tribal scientists were allowed to serve on the MLPA Science Advisory Teams, in spite of the fact that North Coast Indian Tribes have large natural resources and fisheries departments staffed with many fishery biologists and other scientists. And it wasn't until 2010, six years after the MLPA process was privatized, that the first Tribal representative on the MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Force was appointed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

In fact, MLPA officials turned down a request by Yurok Tribe lawyers and scientists last August to make a presentation to the MLPA Science Advisory Team. The Yurok Fisheries Department alone has a staff of over 70 people. Among other data, they were going to present data of test results from other marine reserves regarding mussels.

"The data would have shown that there was not a statistically difference in the diversity of species from the harvested and un-harvested areas," wrote John Corbett, Yurok Tribe Senior Attorney, in a letter to the Science Advisory Team on January 12. "The presentation would have encompassed the work of Smith, J.R. Gong and RF Ambrose, 2008, 'The Impacts of Human Visitation on Mussel Bed Communities along the California Coast: Are Regulatory Marine Reserves Effective in Protecting these Communities.'"

However the "scientists" and MLPA officials didn't want to see data that conflicted with their pre-determined conclusions.

"The Yurok Tribe feels an opportunity was lost to work collaboratively to come up with an improved Level of Protection conceptional model," concluded Corbett. "Although the time is past with the SAT, we will continue to work with the California Fish and Game Commission and the California Department of Fish and Game."

Thomas O'Rourke, chair of the Yurok Tribe, exposed the ridiculousness of the contention by some scientists that the Tribes, who have been harvesting seaweed, mussels, abalone and other species for thousands of years, are "negatively impacting" the ecosystem during his presentation at the Fish and Game Commission meeting in Sacramento on February 2.

"There is no evidence that tribes have had a negative impact upon the ecosystem," said O'Rourke. "They have been part of the ecosystem since time immemorial. Science needs to recognize people as part of the ecosystem. If you don't include people, the proposal will fail. Our rights are not negotiable."

Likewise, Mike Belchik, fisheries biologist and head of the Yurok Fisheries Program, criticized the "flawed assumptions and flawed science" underlying the MLPA. "The idea that to get a natural baseline you subtract humans has been largely discredited," emphasized Belchik.

During the historic direct action protest by a coalition of over 50 Tribes and their allies in Fort Bragg, Frankie Joe Myers, Yurok Tribal member and Coastal Justice Coalition activist, exposed the institutional racism and refusal to incorporate Tribal science that underlies the fake "science" of the MLPA process.

"The MLPA process completely disregards tribal gathering rights and only permits discussion of commercial and recreational harvest," he said. "The whole process is inherently flawed by institutionalized racism. It doesn't recognize Tribes as political entities, or Tribal biologists as legitimate scientists."

On a lighter note, during his testimony in a Legislative hearing about the MLPA in Eureka on January 21, Yurok Tribal elder Walt Lara told a story about four people on an airplane.

"One was a Doctor, the second was a Scientist, the third was a Boy Scout and the fourth was an Indian," said Lara. "When the plane started to go down, they discovered there were only three parachutes."

Lara continued, "The Doctor said he had saved many lives, and would continue to save many people, so he had to live. The Doctor grabbed a parachute and jumped out of the plane. The Scientist said he had made a lot of important discoveries and he was the smartest guy in the world, so he grabbed the second parachute and jumped."

"The Indian told the Boy Scout, 'Look, I've lived a long life, and you have your whole life ahead of you. You take the last parachute.'"

"The Boy Scout said, 'No need for that. The smartest guy in the world just jumped out of the plane with my backpack.'"

Walt Lara has been a relentless defender of tribal rights and advocate for salmon for decades - and provided me and other reporters with a detailed first person account of the Klamath River fish kill in September 2002 as the unprecedented environmental tragedy unfolded.

Under Schwarzenegger, the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) was eviscerated. MLPA officials took water pollution, oil spills and drilling, corporate aquaculture, wave energy projects, habitat destruction and all other human uses of the ocean than fishing and gathering off the table in their bizarre concept of "marine protection." The MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Forces that oversaw the process included an oil industry lobbyist, marina developer, coastal real estate executive and other corporate operatives with numerous conflicts of interests.

The MLPA Initiative has violated numerous state, federal and international laws. These include the California Public Records Act, Bagley-Keene Open Meetings Act, California Administrative Procedure Act, the American Indian Religious Freedom Act and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.