Volume 12, Issue 48 ~ November 25 - December 1, 2004
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Let Oyster Studies Continue

A few years from now, we may recall the first part of the century as a strange time when science fell out of favor.

We may look back on now as the time when political leaders were in such a hellfire hurry to do something that they told our best scientists to just shut up.

Ignoring scientific proof has become vogue in Washington when it comes to global warming. Last week, world leaders gathered to ratify the Kyoto Climate Treaty, which the United States refuses to sign.

You may have missed it, but another 250 scientists from eight nations reported last week that the Arctic is heating up twice as fast because of global warming, threatening weather disruptions and vast changes in nature as a result of melting ice.

Yet the Bush administration insists on voluntary efforts by industry rather than the air-pollution caps needed to stem this looming disaster.

In Maryland, Gov. Robert Ehrlich is showing a similar attitude when it comes to oysters. We are on the verge of a potentially fateful decision about introducing Asian oysters into the Chesapeake.

The National Academy of Sciences — the best collection of research talent in the nation — has urged at least five years of study before taking such a step. The Environmental Protection Agency’s Chesapeake Bay Program office in Annapolis also wants more study.

But Ehrlich wrote a letter last month to the EPA — a letter he wishes had not become public — requesting that its scientists butt out of the deliberations.

“I do not believe that such delays are necessary and seek your assistance in seeing that the process moves forward in a timely manner,” Ehrlich wrote to EPA Administrator Michael Leavitt.

In the letter, obtained by The Baltimore Sun, the governor wrote that Maryland is committed to making a decision about introducing the Asian oyster early next year — after about one year of study.

Like Ehrlich, Leavitt was a Republican governor (Utah) until recently. But politics should have no role in this monumental decision.

This is a tough issue for us at Bay Weekly because we have written heavily about the Asian oyster, ariakensis, and the devastation of Maryland’s native oysters from disease. We were among the first to recommend studies aimed at seeding the foreign oysters in the Bay.

But we’ve never forgotten that MSX, one of the diseases that inflicts native oysters today, likely resulted from the bright idea in the mid-20th century of transplanting another Asian oyster into Chesapeake Bay.

We’re troubled by today’s willingness to tune out science, whether it involves global warming or oysters. We’re equally troubled by a trait we’re seeing in too many political leaders these days that compels them to act, even if it’s the wrong act.

Politicians these days talk about being consequential leaders. Problem is, we’ll still be living with the consequences when they are out of office.

Five years may be too long to wait for a decision on the Asian oysters. But some of the nation’s finest biologists are telling us that one year of study is too little and that rushing forward without knowing more could compound the Bay’s problems.

We should listen.

© COPYRIGHT 2004 by New Bay Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.