More Whistles Sound on Klamath River Science
By KRISTAN KORNS, Two Rivers Tribune
Seven biologists claim “coercive threats” are being used to censor scientific reports and to silence scientists working for the Bureau of Reclamation.
Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) filed a complaint Monday, Jan. 7, 2013 with the Department of the Interior on behalf of the seven scientists.
PEER wrote in their complaint that the Bureau of Reclamation’s Klamath Basin Area Office Manager Jason Phillips had sent a memo threatening to shut down that office’s Fisheries Resources Branch because their scientific studies had been “causing problems” for other agencies.
Jeff Ruch, executive director of PEER, said, “This was used as a way to intimidate them and put them in line.”
Pete Lucerno, public affairs officer for the Mid-Pacific Region Bureau of Reclamation, said Phillips’ memo could have been worded better, but was only intended to open a line of discussion with the scientists and their union.
“The Bureau’s new Regional Director David Murillo, who came on in mid-December, is working with Jason [Phillips] to see how best to maximize our resources,” Lucerno said. “This is clearly a case of reorganizing for efficiency’s sake to meet our mission.”
In the memo sent out in November, Phillips recommended shifting research and data collection for the Klamath area over to the United States Geological Survey (USGS).
Phillips wrote, “Stakeholders in the Klamath Basin, including tribes, other agencies, and interest groups, view studies performed by USGS and other scientific entities, such as universities, as credible.”
“Unfortunately, this is not the case of the studies carried out by KBAO,” Phillips wrote.
Hoopa Valley Tribal Chairman Leonard Masten Jr. said, “Recent claims of retribution by government scientists come as no surprise.”
“The Bureau of Reclamation has used bad science in the past,” Masten said. “No one living on the Klamath can forget the Bush administration decision to manipulate science in 2002 and the subsequent death of 60,000 salmon.”
In 2002, water was diverted away from the Klamath to desperate Oregon farmers during a drought, despite Endangered Species Act regulations designed to protect the river’s fish.
By September 2002, tens of thousands of fish were dead and rotting along the banks of the river.
Then lead biologist on the Klamath for the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), Mike Kelley blew the whistle on what he characterized as political pressure to ignore or reverse science findings.
“I believed, both personally and professionally, that our agency had violated the law during the Klamath River ESA [Endangered Species Act] section 7 consultation,” Kelley said.
Kelley’s team had just delivered a report outlining the lowest possible flows for survival of Coho salmon, when his supervisor received a call and stepped out of the room.
When the supervisor returned, he cut the estimated flows in half.
It was later revealed by The Washington Post that unprecedented political pressure had been brought by then Vice President Dick Cheney in support of Oregon farmers.
The political pressure included direct phone calls from Cheney to officials far down the chain of command in the Interior Department, to handle “this Klamath situation.”
More recently, hydrologist Paul Hauser, a science advisor and scientific integrity officer for the Bureau of Reclamation, said he was dismissed from his post in February 2012 in retaliation for exposing “intentional falsification” and “biased summarization” of scientific results.
“The expectation for employees to compromise scientific integrity in support of Departmental missions and goals, and to engage in systematic reprisal when an employee questions the Department’s scientific integrity, is clearly an abuse of authority,” Hauser said.
Lucerno said possible reorganization of the Fisheries Resources Branch had nothing to do with scientific misconduct or reprisal, but is a way to avoid wasting resources or duplicating the efforts of other agencies.
“If Fish and Wildlife is doing scientific research, why do we need to continue to do the same research when we have other things these guys could be doing?” Lucerno said.
Lucerno added that every employee would continue to work, but the work would change if other agencies took on future studies in the region.
“Some could shift over to overseeing grants for outside agencies that do science for us,” Lucerno said.
Ruch said he viewed Phillips’ memo as an implied threat.
“They’re sort of being told ‘make nice, or you’ll all go,’” Ruch said.