Selective quotes altered timber story

  Dear HCN,

I am quite upset about the selective quotes from me in the article about program cuts at the University of Washington by Kathie Durbin (HCN, 11/13/95). The manner in which my remarks were used makes it appear that the faculty and staff of the Center for Streamside Studies blame Weyerhaeuser Company for the loss of the Timber Fish Wildlife programs, and that the center is unwilling to work with the state or with Weyerhaeuser on regional issues.

Allow me to set the record straight. First, in my conversation with Ms. Durbin it was clear that she was trying to make a case against large forest product companies, especially Weyerhaeuser. I attempted to point out that many of these companies are trying to do the right thing in light of public attitudes about environmental issues but that they also need to be responsive to their shareholders. This is a difficult balance to evenly maintain for the long-term for any organization. There are, however, some individuals within these companies (as there are within the university and state agencies) with whom I personally find it difficult to agree. That does not mean they are wrong, just that we have a different way of looking at the world. The important point is that it is essential that divergent viewpoints be heard and that a balanced approach be implemented if watershed management is to work in the long term. This requires that all stakeholders and individuals involved with watershed issues have the opportunity to express themselves.

Second, I was expressing my personal viewpoints on working with the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), not that of the Center. There are many faculty and students here who are actively involved with state agencies on applied regional problems, and they are doing a good job. I have come to realize, however, that these types of research problems are not my strength. Therefore, I have chosen to refocus my personal research program toward fundamental stream ecology. My experiences with particular people within DNR were not rewarding; yet there are many excellent people with our state agencies. I just happened to encounter a couple of individuals who appeared to have their own agendas and, unfortunately, had fiscal control over the research programs that were eliminated.

Finally, Timber Fish Wildlife has not been "taken over by the timber industry." Today members of the industry community are important players because of their long-term investment and interest in the program and because many of the original players have chosen to reduce their involvement (for a variety of reasons). This is a complicated issue that cannot be captured in one sentence as Ms. Durbin unwisely attempted to do.

Robert J. Naiman

Seattle, Washington

Kathie Durbin responds:

It is unfortunate that Dr. Naiman, a respected scientist whose program has made significant contributions to public understanding of Northwest stream ecology, now feels it necessary to backtrack and to attack my motives.

It is patently false for him to say that in our interview I was "trying to make a case against large forest product companies, especially Weyerhaeuser." I contacted Naiman to verify the story that Steve Ralph, a biologist he supervised, told me about Weyerhaeuser Co." s role in the abrupt termination of his research project. Naiman did so - and then elaborated on the incident. It's true that Naiman said it would be a mistake to characterize all timber companies by the actions of a few individuals, but he confirmed that the Center for Streamside Studies had been hurt by pressures from some elements in the industry. "Very much so," he said. Naiman then volunteered the view that "Timber Fish Wildlife (the state Department of Natural Resources program under which Ralph's research occurred) has been taken over by the timber industry." I do not manufacture quotes.

Regarding his comments on applied research in the Pacific Northwest, Naiman told me he was trying to rebuild the Center for Streamside Studies and attain financial stability by seeking money from the National Science Foundation to replace lost state dollars. He said he had decided to "forget the regional issues' because of the difficulty of dealing with the Department of Natural Resources.