When the University of Washington offered aquatic biologist Steve Ralph a job in 1989 directing a major new stream-research program, he jumped at the chance. His task: Devise a first-of-its-kind monitoring program for streams around the state surrounded by industrial-scale logging.
identified the extensively logged Deschutes Basin, which drains
into South Puget Sound, as an ideal research site. It had "been
pretty heavily whacked by Weyerhaeuser," he says; more than 65
percent of its forests had been logged.
Ralph reported not only to the university's Center for Streamside
Studies but also to the state government - which funded the program
through the Department of Natural Resources' Timber Fish Wildlife
program - as well as to private industry. It soon became clear that
some members of the steering committee were intent on blocking his
"The most dominant player on the
committee was Weyerhaeuser," he recalls. "There were five research
subcommittees. Every one was headed by a Weyerhaeuser person. They
were the only ones who could afford to put someone on full time.
They hounded us about the scope of the statewide study and the
budget; they tried to undercut us. I was constantly fighting and in
conflict with Weyerhaeuser."
Even other timber
industry scientists became disgusted with the way some Weyerhaeuser
scientists threw their weight around, he
Still, by the summer of 1991, Ralph was
making headway. The legislature had just given his project a
two-year budget of $500,000 and he had 13 field workers gathering
information on 300 miles of streams around the state. "We were
finally close to documenting that the effect of industrial-scale
logging on fish habitat was very substantial," he
That fall, a friend called with unexpected
news: A steering committee overseeing the state's involvement in
the program had taken a vote and decided to kill the
Forestry School Dean David Thorud won
the project a temporary reprieve so Ralph could organize his data.
"We fought hard to keep that project," recalls
Thorud, now acting UW provost. "It was to be a long-term research
and monitoring project. It was the Department of Natural Resources
that decided to terminate it. It was a tremendous waste and a big
setback for the Center for Streamside Studies."
Ralph's work wasn't a total loss. He completed
his analysis with funding from the Forest Service, and published
the results in a Canadian journal. But he is still bitter about the
"It was really a big professional
insult," he says. "I don't understand why a private timber company
should have so much influence over publicly funded programs."
Ralph wasn't the only researcher working for the
Center for Streamside Studies who found his project abruptly
terminated. Biologist Phil Peterson's study of the relationship
between fish production and stream habitat change was killed
without notice, ostensibly for budgetary reasons. Center director
Bob Naiman received the coup de grace this year, when he was told
the center's 1995-96 budget would be cut by 36
Naiman is so frustrated about the demise
of the center's two major applied-research projects that he says
the center will abandon state-funded applied research altogether.
He says he'll seek more stable funding from such sources as the
National Science Foundation.
"It's impossible to
work with the Department of Natural Resources, and Timber Fish
Wildlife has been taken over by the timber industry," he says. "We
not only lost the money, we lost the people. I'm trying to rebuild
the program now. I'm going to forget the regional issues and return
to basic stream ecology."