The recent arrest of Mad River biologists Ronald LeValley and Sean McAllister on charges of using phony spotted owl surveys to embezzle funds from the Yurok Tribe should lead to an in-depth discussion of the long-standing method of obtaining a scientific consultation for any resource project. For many years, I have been troubled by the many partially trained alleged biologists willing to give an opinion on virtually any project for a large sum of money. This is usually done under the guise of “science,” and the experts usually have some scientific training. The more expensive ones may have a college degree or have written numerous reports. They may have become a member in good standing of the local scientific community.

In most situations, there is no criteria for becoming an expert. Some experts have undergraduate degrees; a few have advanced degrees; some did not complete their degree or have degrees in a field not related to their expert opinions. There are virtually no testing or knowledge standards for becoming an expert.

It is a poorly kept secret that if you have a project that needs a favorable expert scientific opinion, there are many alleged scientific experts in this area who will give you a favorable opinion for a large sum of money. Conversely if you need a negative opinion, for an equally large sum of money, you can find an alleged scientific expert who will back your negative opinion. If this project then comes to court, judges are left with no valid scientific expertise and are forced to base their opinions on the narrow interpretations of the legal process such as the ridiculous Richardson Grove opinion being based on the accuracy of measurements of tree diameters.

I do not know Ron LeValley or Sean McAllister, and have had no dealings with either of them. I have no opinions on the legality of their dealings with the Yurok Tribe. I do believe that there needs to be a reevaluation of the use and credentials of scientific experts in resource issues. Scientific experts are routinely making recommendations that affect public safety and public funds. Virtually all other professionals, from cosmetologists to neurosurgeons, are required to be licensed by the state; so should scientific experts.


Dr. Denver Nelson is a Humboldt County planning commissioner, former neurosurgeon , Klamath River advocate and Cutten resident.