CPW’s dubious call
In needlessly stiff-arming the public, Colorado Parks and Wildlife is contributing to a heightened sense of skepticism about government in general.
As the Sentinel’s Dennis Webb reported in Saturday’s paper, the agency is refusing to disclose the results of a first year of work removing bears and mountain lions from a part of the Roan Plateau for a study on the effects on mule deer numbers.
That’s disappointing on two levels. The Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission conducted transparent public hearings to arrive at a decision to undergo two science-based predator removal research projects — one on the Roan and another in the Upper Arkansas River Valley.
Using a data-driven approach was supposed to inspire confidence in the findings. The agency had gone out on a limb to zero in on the effect of predators instead of human-caused disturbances that may be contributing to declining deer numbers.
But faith in the scientific process is undermined when the agency refuses to share the most rudimentary data points. At this point, we doubt the agency could draw any preliminary conclusions about fawn survival rates. But it could certainly share the mechanics of the research — for example, how many predators have been killed on the Roan or relocated to other areas so far. Enough for statistical relevance?
There’s no upside to refusing to share the information, much less a legal reason. At best the agency looks inept. At worst, it looks like it’s hiding something. Had the agency simply honored a request for information, there’s probably not much of a story here — an incomplete picture due to a dearth of data. Instead it looks like it paid lip service to the idea of transparency, only to carry out a hidden agenda without public oversight.
How does releasing whatever data has been gathered to this point threaten the research? That’s one of the reasons a CPW spokesman gave in denying a request for information. He cited a state law allowing for state institutions to not disclose data from ongoing research if it would be contrary to the public interest.
Doesn’t that suggest that waiting offers an opportunity to manipulate data later? That can’t be the message CPW wants to send to the public.
Remember that the two studies will cost a combined $4.5 million. That’s money generated by hunting and fishing licenses and proceeds from a federal tax on sporting arms and ammunition. Part of the criticism swirling around the commission’s decision to authorize the research was that it looked like CPW is managing wildlife from a sportsman’s perspective.
But CPW staff managed to convince the commission — and us — that this was pure science to test a hypothesis that predation is a factor in suboptimal deer population numbers.
We thought data-driven policy making would mean the routine disclosure of data. This is public information paid for by public funds. If the CPW wants to salvage some semblance of the public’s trust, it will rethink its position on sharing the data it’s gathered so far.