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Klamath scientists claim political interference and censorship

by: Dan Bacher

Tue Jan 08, 2013 at 22:53:59 PM PST


Seven federal fisheries biologists working in the Klamath River Basin were told to "pack their bags," but were not told the reason why, according to a complaint filed on their behalf by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) on Monday, January 7.

The complaint charges the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the employer of the scientists, with "political coercion and censorship of science."

Ironically, rules adopted at the behest of President Obama state that agency scientific work is not to be altered or censored for political reasons. In addition, agencies are required to use the "best available information" in making decisions.

In an unusual memo dated November 8, 2012, Jason Phillips, Reclamation's Klamath Basin Area Manager, outlined his intention to reassign the seven Reclamation fisheries scientists in the Fisheries Resources Branch.

"Many perceive Reclamation's efforts as inherently biased...There's a concern that...in some cases we are simply carrying out studies to contradict the science of other agencies," Phillips stated.

Phillips had complained that Reclamation's scientific work had caused him "problems" with other stakeholders and agencies. Yet when pressed for specifics, he contended "this data is not regularly maintained" and refused to elaborate.

However, in a November 30, 2012 meeting, Phillips cited the life-cycle model for threatened coho salmon developed by the Fisheries Resources Branch as work he would not allow to be published or used by Reclamation due to unarticulated concerns raised by another agency, according to PEER.

According to the complaint, "Preliminary results generated by the model suggest mainstem Klamath River flows (i.e. Reclamation-controlled flows) were less important for coho salmon survival and recovery than tributary flows (i.e. non-Reclamation controlled flows). Since the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries had raised concerns regarding this model, Mr. Phillips stated that he did not intend to allow the model to be published, be 'shelved' and not used by Reclamation on its decision making process."

"Requiring that science be non-controversial is like ordering your omelet made with un-cracked eggs," quipped PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, who filed the scientists' complaint under agency scientific integrity policies. "Scientific differences are supposed to be addressed through consultation, not suppressed by bullying and threats."

Ruch noted that Reclamation has announced plans to outsource all its fisheries science for the Klamath Basin in northern California and southern Oregon, where struggles over water supplies between farmers and Indian Tribes, fishermen and environmentalists have roiled for decades.

The complaint seeks withdrawal of the Fisheries Resources Branch closure plan, adoption of a collaborative forum for disputes and discipline for Phillips and other complicit managers.

"Reclamation is responsible for protecting water and related resources in an environmentally and economically sound manner in the interest of the American public. In order to accomplish this mission, Reclamation's biologists must be allowed to search for scientific truth in a methodical, controlled, testable, and repeatable manner. Unfortunately, Mr. Phillips actions undermine Reclamation's mission by sublimating science to political priorities," the complaint concluded.

In response to the complaint, Phillips released a statement claiming the Klamath Area Office frequently reviews operations to make the best use of resources, and the proposed change concerning the fisheries scientists met that goal. He claimed no one will lose their job.

PEER said the political coercion and censorship takes place in an agency that does not have a good track record for tolerating diversity of scientific opinion.

For example, in February 2012, Reclamation abolished the position of its own Scientific Integrity Officer, Dr. Paul Houser, after he raised questions about the accuracy of summaries of environmental analyses on expected effects of removing four dams from Klamath River. "While his whistleblower complaint of retaliation has been resolved, his complaint of scientific misconduct has yet to be answered, nearly a year later, according to PEER.

"Our fear is that professionalism has become hazardous to our careers inside Reclamation," said Keith Schultz, one of the seven scientists. "We hope this complaint will make a difference in allowing other scientists to come forward and be truthful about science."

The other six censored scientists are Charles Korson, James Ross, Torrey Tyler, Brock Phillips, Darin Taylor and Alex Wilkins.

The latest scandal takes place as the Obama administration has surpassed even the Bush administration in its attacks on fish and the environment, according to many observers. The Obama administration is the first federal administration to endorse the peripheral tunnels - and has fast-tracked the approval of genetically engineered salmon and pushed the privatization of fisheries through the catch shares program.

The same Bureau of Reclamation that has threatened the seven scientists for removal from their posts has also presided over the collapse of Central Valley chinook salmon, Delta smelt and other species, due to massive water exports from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, declining water quality and Central Valley dam operations in recent years.

The abundance of Delta fish abundance documented in the California Department of Fish and Wildlife's fall midwater trawl survey plummeted again in 2012, after a temporary increase among Delta smelt and other species in 2011. (http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2013/01/04/18729468.php)

This record low abundance was predicted by Thomas Cannon, a well-respected fishery biologist who testified on behalf of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance at State Water Resources Control Board meetings in October and November, 2012.

Threadfin shad declined to a record low abundance level, while three species - American shad, longfin smelt and Sacramento splittail - plummeted to their second lowest recorded abundance. Delta smelt and striped bass each reached their seventh lowest abundance levels.

Now we find out that seven fisheries biologists in the Klamath Basin have been threatened with removal by the same agency for daring to disagree with the manipulated "science" of agency officials. It appears that Bureau of Reclamation officials believe in "science," all right, but it's political science, not natural science that they practice.

For more information, go to: http://www.peer.org/news/news-...

Dan Bacher :: Klamath scientists claim political interference and censorship
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