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Klamath scientists claim political interference and censorship
by Dan Bacher
Tuesday Jan 8th, 2013 3:29 PM
“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.”

Photo of coho salmon courtesy of Siskiyou Land Conservancy.
Federal government threatens Klamath biologists with removal

by Dan Bacher

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. (

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.

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Comments  (Hide Comments)

by Beeline
Tuesday Jan 8th, 2013 5:55 PM
People on the outside do not know how manipulating, intimidating and conniving federal management has become. It got started in the Reagan/Watt administration. In order to satisfy the corporate sectors lust for cheap resources on public lands and federal minerals leases, James Watt ordered federal agencies to take on a corporate persona. Low and middle rank managers were shipped off to "secret" workshops in which they learned how to manipulate their employees the same way as a corporate CEO would. The basic idea was to give corporations what they wanted, make it look legitimate and weed out the good employees who valued their integrity. An employee with integrity is much more difficult to manipulate.

As an example, in the 80's BLM biologists, botanists and archeologists were targeted because their role was not to sell something (like timber, right of ways or oil and gas leases) but rather to preserve endangered species of animals, plants and archeological sites according to federal laws. Usually, the management would try to get several other employees on their side so as to pressure scientists to fake or misrepresent data. Other techniques included, threats of not allowing an employee to transfer and get a promotion, keeping a biologist in the office so he or she could not go into the field etc.. I know of a case in which managers tried to get other employees to forge a biologists signature in order to expedite paper work for an oil company. There was also the ploy of keeping a scientist inside the office with no instructions so he or she could not do the job but would rather have to just sit there and vegetate. And should a manager not go along with the corporate policy he would be forced out or transferred to D.C. It's kind of tragically funny, but it's well known inside the government that if you screw up- you go to D.C..

How far would management go to intimidate their scientists? I know of a biologist who had a bullet bounced off his van, an archeologist that had a window shot out of his car and a botanist who was hit in an auto accident by an oil field employee that worked for an oil company working a federal oil and gas lease. And in 2005 when the manager of the Carrizo Plain National Monument , administered by the Bakersfield District BLM, was repeatedly threatened by her new supervisor with termination because she did not want to permit over-grazing on the National Monument- she committed suicide and BLM officials confiscated her lap top computer for her notes only hours afterward.

That this sort of intimidation and employee abuse has continued for so long is sickening. It is also sickening that "Oldbama" would permit or perhaps even enhance this kind of behavior which undermines the very foundation of government.

Do we need a new government? Hell yes. It is the citizens job to keep the government from falling into error, not the governments job to keep the citizen from falling into error.

Right now we are in a football game with the corporate fascists ahead of the middle class citizens in the first half by a wide margin. If the middle class cannot stage a comeback in the second half, the prizes of democracy and decent, healthy living will be lost . The new Fascism will not be fun and may not even be survivable.
by fishsniffer
Wednesday Jan 9th, 2013 9:06 PM
Those Klamath coho salmon in the picture are chum salmon and certainly not in the Klamath.
by D.B.
Thursday Jan 10th, 2013 8:42 AM
Thanks for pointing that out - I inadvertently put the wrong photo in there. I have replaced it with a coho photo.