Should Consultants Be Licensed? Should Their reports Be Placed in the Pu

To: Birding Aus <>
Subject: Should Consultants Be Licensed? Should Their reports Be Placed in the Public Domain?
From: Lawrie Conole <>
Date: Mon, 22 Jun 2009 12:13:09 +1000
OK Carl - somebody had to bite, and I guess it may as well be me  :-)
That's a VERY big tar brush you're wielding there ...

Consultants (ecological or otherwise) are not the enemy.  I should know
because I am one, and have been for about a decade [thin-skinned defence &
disclosure out of the way].

Consultants' reports that form part of various permitting applications, by
and large, are in the public domain.  I realise that this is not universal,
or even permanent (Carl's repository) and frankly, it's not up to us (the
consultants).  Clients "own" the reports as they paid for them, and
regulators may or may not make them publicly available, depending on the
legislative or regulatory provisions they work within.  Any issues of
disclosure or transparency there need to be taken up with government and/or
the bureaucracy.  Many reports authored by me are in the public domain, and
I'm quite relaxed about that prospect.

Many of the state regulatory authorities who's job it is to read, evaluate
and make decisions based on consultants' reports are ill-equipped and
under-funded for the task.  In many cases the collective organisational
memory, experience and wisdom has been gutted by funding and administrative
fiddling from above.  Many substandard consultants' reports make it through
unscathed, and it does none of us any good that they do.  The consequences
for decision making, and consultants' reputations more broadly, are
serious!  Sometimes I feel like the GP see me as on a par with used car
salesmen or real estate agents, just because I am a 'consulting' ecologist
rather than some other more worthy kind of ecologist.  The state of the
environment would be in a worse condition now than it is if it wasn't for
the efforts of very experienced, knowledgable and principled consulting
ecologists propping up some of the ramshackle systems they are forced to
work within!  You might be surprised at how fiercely independant some of the
best (and most successful) ecological consultants are.

Accreditation - now there's a piece of string!  There is no overarching,
compulsory accreditation scheme for ecological consultants - indeed for
relatively few consultants apart from engineers.  Should there be? ...
probably yes.  No self-respecting consultant could really argue against that
notion, but it depends on the system of accreditation being proposed.  The
wider environmental profession (including ecology) has a peer-reviewed
accreditation scheme - the Certified Environmental Practitioner (CEnvP).
I'm sure the cynics amongst us will see this as leaving the fox in charge of
the hen house (or some other confused metaphor), but from what I can see it
is rigorous and serious, but of course broad and generic.  I'm thinking of
chancing my arm for accreditation under this scheme later this year.

Chris Brandis earlier lamented the sources of variably scrutinised data used
by consultants, to provide background for impact assessment reports and the
like.  This has long been a beef of mine too.  Before I started as a
consultant, I read reports from time to time which appeared to present
database output completely unfiltered, and showed little if any genuine
ecological understanding or thinking.  I still see many like that.  I use
database output from various atlassing sources on a regular basis, but
always run it through a bullsh*t detector before incorporating it into
analyses or impact assessments.  Clearly the Wandering Albatross is not
commonly found in montane forests, but a large search cell will apparently
put it there, right alongside White-eared Honeyeater.  This clearly doesn't
make sense without qualification, and shouldn't be presented as if it does!
Competent consulting ecologists don't do so.

So there; that feels a little bit better.  Personal flames to my personal
address please ...

Lawrie Conole
Northcote 3070 AUSTRALIA
lconole at gmail dot com

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