Friday, March 27, 2009


Over the years, I have found myself involved in various controversies. A lot of this is because I am an issue-oriented person and a truth seeker and some have called me a "shit disturber". I cannot deny this accusation; I do not feel comfortable nodding agreeably in support of mediocrity or error, which is what the majority of people do most of the time, even in matters of science. When I see error, I am inclined to speak out and seek resolution, even if it makes me unpopular.

When I am in error, which happens occasionally, I welcome correction because I am a truth seeker. I cannot recall anyone ever being angry with me due to an error on my part and I always acknowledge and correct my errors when they are demonstrated to me.

But I have repeatedly seen people become hostile and remain so when they are in error and I am correct, or when they make assertions for which they have no support, but which I have refuted. There is ego involved in most of these cases, and sometimes status and even livelihoods and fund raising can be at stake.

I just learned that an ex-GGRO intern named Zach Smith is hostile towards me and wants to discredit me or at least scrupulously avoid favorable mention of me at all costs. Even worse, I found out that Zach has made lying accusations against me that are utterly without merit and which is never attempted to verify with me, even though the lines of communication from me have always been open and I have communicated to him many times over the years. But Zach has a chip on his shoulder. He was part of a team that went to Chile to put satellite tags on peregrine falcons. The team leader, Bud Anderson, of the Falcon Research Group personally asked me to publicize the program worldwide, which I did. But as I followed the Southern Cross Project and its communications to its funding supporters and the general public, I found flawed science and I commented publicly on it. I went to the published literature which should have been very familiar to the participants and quoted chapter and verse of why an important aspect of their project was flawed. And I have never heard directly from Bud or Zach again and probably never will. They became hostile, not because I was wrong or personally hostile to them, but because I was right and the truth I revealed hurt their pride and could have possibly influenced their prestige and maybe their fund raising if it became widespread.

Jeff Miller of the Center for Biological Diversity was very happy to receive my total support for his petition to list the California Burrowing Owl under the state Endangered Species Act. But Jeff got involved with the issue of bird mortality at the Altamont Pass and started down a mistaken course which has harmed the interests of raptors. I warned Jeff that his course was problematic and that I would oppose any policies of the Center that harmed the interests of raptors and I pointed out arguments by other raptor biologists, such as Pete Bloom, Robert Risebrough and Grainger Hunt that aligned with my own views regarding research and mitigation opportunities in the Altamont Pass. But Jeff ignored my advice and sided with Shawn Smallwood, who is a statistician posing as a wildlife ecologist and whose influence on science and mitigation in the Altamont Pass has proved to be a disaster for the birds. And Jeff does not speak with me any more, not because I was wrong, but because I was right, and I was "divisive". But the truth does divide and conservation is often about controversy.

Similarly, the Center for Biological Diversity has taken another poor position with regard to California Condor conservation in the Tejon Ranch. CBD supports the views of disgruntled ex-Condor Biologists whose current opinions on the Tejon Ranch actually contradict their own published views and who have resorted to lies, slander and misinformation in order to try to influence policy and regain some level of influence in the decision making regarding California Condors at this location. I entered the controversy in support of scientific truth and honest evaluation of mitigation planning and suddenly gained the wrath of the Snyders. Helen Snyder has attempted to discredit me and has followed me around the world to shadow me in my raptor communications by various listservers as she becomes aware of them. This has continued even into this week, with Helen joining the NeoTropicalRaptors listserver as soon as she became aware of my involvement there.

I have learned that if you are an issue-oriented person and do not shy away from controversy, it will follow you. My personality and communication style, which is of a matter-of-fact variety and not deferential to persons who make mistakes, even if I otherwise admire them. I let the facts sort themselves out and my batting average for accuracy in scientific and conservation matters is very, very high.

In some cases, I have become a hated man, not because of my errors, but because of my adherence to scientific truth and expert analysis. Other people avoid such controversies by simply blinding themselves or refusing to get involved. I am not like that and sometimes I think I may be the only person who is. But I have a clear conscience and a good reputation with the best people and that is very satisfying.

There is a saying that "where there is heat, there is light". I like to sit in a warm, well-lit room and feel uncomfortable lounging around in the darkness.

PS: I hear that North Bay Birds moderator Douglas Shaw claims that he banned me for life from the list for "verbally abusing" people and not playing by the rules. His vague wording is defamatory and deliberately misleading. The correct translation is that I complained tactfully about being treated unfairly and by him making up rules as he went along and applying them differently to me than to other people. The truth is that people like Maggie Rufo and Siobhan Ruck and bird tour leaders intensely disliked me out of jealousy and organizational "turf protection" and they and nagged the owner and moderator behind the scenes to silence me. People I would consider to be friends never once rallied to my support, and they all know who they are. And so I was banned for life from North Bay Birds despite being without doubt the most interesting contributor in the history of the listserver in terms of expert commentaries on birds, their habitats and their behaviors (specifically raptors). Such is the world of birding and birders and thus it is not surprising that listservers such as North Bay Birds have fallen far short of their potential. I might add that the owner of Cal Birds (and San Diego Birds) is a man named Douglas Aguillard who banned me for life from San Diego Birds for pointing out his ignorance publicly, while he sent me profanity-laden private communications. The same fellow, Doug Aguillard kicked me off Cal Birds recently as soon as he saw my first posting. He is one of those ex-Marines from San Diego County who is proud of his violent temperament and I have been told by various San Diego - area birders that he has banned any number of knowledgeable people who did not realize or agree with how special he feels he really is. And this is the world of bird listserver moderators in California, where clearly I do not fit in.

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