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post #1 of 10 (permalink) Old 02-13-2005, 09:42 PM Thread Starter
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Wildlife scientists feeling heat, Species-protection data suppressed

Scientists in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service say they've been forced to alter or withhold findings that would have led to greater protections for endangered species, according to a survey released Wednesday by two environmental groups.

The scientists charge that top regional and national officials in the agency suppressed scientific information to avoid confrontations with industry groups or to follow the Bush administration's political policies.

The mail-in survey by the Union of Concerned Scientists and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility -- which drew responses from 414 of 1,400 biologists, ecologists, botanists and other scientists -- was not a scientific poll. But the two groups said the large number of responses reflect concern by of many Fish and Wildlife Service employees that political appointees are inappropriately influencing the science that drives decisions to list species and protect their habitat.

A spokesman for the agency said he could not comment on the report until agency officials have had time to review it.

But an Interior Department official said the survey results reflect the natural tension between agency scientists and managers in making tough decisions about protecting species.

"There's nothing inappropriate about people higher up the chain of command supervising the work of people below them and reaching different scientific conclusions," said Hugh Vickery, an Interior Department spokesman.

"These (decisions) should get scrutiny. That's what they pay these folks for," he said. "The question at hand is, are they doing their job properly and in accordance with the law? The answer is yes. Does everyone like it? No. But they are doing it properly."

The results were released a day before Republican leaders in Congress, led by House Resources Chairman Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Tracy, were scheduled to announce their strategy to pass a major overhaul of the Endangered Species Act, which critics say is failing to save species from extinction.

Two senior House Democrats who oppose the proposed changes to the act sent a letter to Interior Secretary Gale Norton on Wednesday urging her to respond to the charges of political interference by agency officials.

"The Fish and Wildlife Service's credibility rests on its scientific integrity," wrote Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Los Angeles, and Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W. Va. "If political agendas are allowed to overrule science, that credibility will be compromised."

Forty-four percent of the scientists who responded to the survey said they have been asked by their superiors to avoid making findings that would require greater protection of endangered species.

One in five agency scientists reported being directed to alter or withhold technical information from scientific documents.

And more than half of the respondents -- 56 percent -- said agency officials have reversed or withdrawn scientific conclusions under pressure from industry groups.

The sponsors of the survey, who often have criticized President Bush's environmental policies, said the results are part of a broader effort by administration officials to mold scientific findings to support their policies.

Last week, the inspector general of the Environmental Protection Agency reported that the agency has failed to fully assess the health impacts of mercury pollution because political appointees have intervened and compromised scientific practices. EPA officials denied the charge.

"The political manipulation of science is an ongoing problem with this administration," said Lexi Shultz of the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Nearly 30 percent of the Fish and Wildlife Service scientists queried responded to the survey -- a high rate, especially since several regional offices had urged employees not to reply. An official in the Great Lakes regional office asked the staff, in a memo, not to fill out the survey "in the office or from home."

Fish and Wildlife Service spokesman Mitch Snow said officials in Washington had directed employees only to not answer any unauthorized surveys during working hours.

The written comments reflect a view shared by many agency scientists that politics have clouded decisions on whether to list species as endangered and designate areas of critical habitat.

One scientist from the Pacific region, which includes California and five other western states, reported being involved in two decisions to list species as endangered that were reversed, allegedly due to political pressure.

"Science was ignored -- and, worse, manipulated to build a bogus set of rationale for reversal of these listing decisions," the scientist wrote.

Another scientist from the Pacific region concluded: "I have never seen so many findings and recommendations by the field be turned around at the regional and Washington level. All we can do at the field level is ensure that our administrative record is complete and hope we get sued by an environmental or conservation organization."

The survey gave no specifics about which agency decisions were changed because of politics. The survey's sponsors said many scientists did not cite specific cases for fear they would be identified and would face retaliation for speaking out.

Sally Stefferud, a scientist who worked for 20 years at the agency before retiring three years ago, said that in the past political pressure affected only a few high-profile decisions but that now it is affecting almost all agency actions on endangered species.

Stefferud, who helped prepare the study, noted that field scientists in the Southwest region who study the impact of grazing on federal lands are now accompanied by the grazing permit holders, who she said are unlikely to show researchers any potential harm to endangered species.

"The data can become very easily distorted," Stefferud said.

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post #2 of 10 (permalink) Old 02-13-2005, 10:10 PM
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RE: Wildlife scientists feeling heat, Species-protection data suppressed

Part of the problem is also that USFWS has several missions that occassionally put the agency in conflict with itself and with special interest groups. It is regulatory (enforcement), it is a land manager, and it does some basic science.The agency has few friends since the tree-huggers usually view the agency as a lacky of administration policy (it is an agency in the Exec Branch and is lead by whomever is in power) and industry thinks it is in bed with tree-huggers. Since the agency is regulatory it is always in conflict with one interest or another that pressures the Exec and Congress to pressure USFWS. Without a natural constituency, it is always at the mercy of budgeteers.

A good friend of mine was informed by a US senator and several congressmen that persistence in a certain course that would a budget cut to her agency in that state. That was during the Reagan admin. but the delegation were Democrats.

Pressure comes in many forms, but the most effective is to threaten the agency budget. That almost always works, especially in a shrinking fed budget cycle like we're in now. I can't speak to the frequency of threat and intimidation, but I do know that this kind of thing has gone on a long time--it's Andrew Jackson's legacy.

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post #3 of 10 (permalink) Old 02-13-2005, 10:29 PM Thread Starter
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RE: Wildlife scientists feeling heat, Species-protection data suppressed

I don't know about you, but I really find this kind of crap disheartening. This stuff is too damned important to bow to the whims of politics or industry. I'd really like to see an OSHA-type agency for the environment with broad powers and clear guidelines which are only broken under a threat of severe financial repercussions and/or imprisonment. I'm sure the issues are far too complex to ever allow that to happen. And while that concept may be offensive as offensive gets in the world of libertarianism, I submit that both industry and government have had their chance to prove their mettle, and both have failed miserably.

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post #4 of 10 (permalink) Old 02-13-2005, 10:46 PM
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RE: Wildlife scientists feeling heat, Species-protection data suppressed

Quote:
GermanStar - 2/14/2005 12:29 AM

I don't know about you, but I really find this kind of crap disheartening. This stuff is too damned important to bow to the whims of politics or industry. I'd really like to see an OSHA-type agency for the environment with broad powers and clear guidelines which are only broken under a threat of severe financial repercussions and/or imprisonment. I'm sure the issues are far too complex to ever allow that to happen. And while that concept may be offensive as offensive gets in the world of libertarianism, I submit that both industry and government have had their chance to prove their mettle, and both have failed miserably.
All agencies in the Executive Branch must adhere to decisions from the top. It is up to Congress, in its oversight role, to control or moderate the Executive will. This is part of running government. OSHA is no more immune to political machinations than is USFWS. All of the exec is inherently political, as it should be, especially if the agency is regulatory or enforcement. A regulatory agency that is unresponsive to executive leadership is a rogue agency. It is up to each administration and each Congress to struggle with the issue of how much interference is appropriate and in which agencies.

A better example of independence than OSHA is NSF (National Science Foundation). It was designed to be independent of gov and provide objective scientific fact for the people. But folks accuse it of being politically biased every few years. Most of the time its because of bad news from the scientists--its easier to blame them and ignore them than it is to do anything.

Look at the environment this way. Imagine a fully independent agency were created to protect the environment, by some criteria. That would be an enforement and regulatory agency with policy power not answerable to elected officials. That is dangerous.

On a related thought, have you ever noticed that there is almost never any good news from environmental science? I believe its because humanity is having a widespread and nearly uniformly deletarious effect on the environment. There is no non-political solution to a problem that originates and is corrected from humanity itself.
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post #5 of 10 (permalink) Old 02-13-2005, 11:55 PM
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RE: Wildlife scientists feeling heat, Species-protection data suppressed

I'll bet this whole deal goes away if we put a dem in power and throw more money at it.



Okay that was gratuitously flippant.

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post #6 of 10 (permalink) Old 02-14-2005, 12:03 AM
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RE: Wildlife scientists feeling heat, Species-protection data suppressed

Lady Z is a fish biologist with the WA State version of USFWS and sees the same conflicts within her agency. She's very much in favor of habitat restoration as a means of encouraging wild runs of Salmonids, which are genetically more diverse and robust than the hatchery/farm raised bio-trash also championed by powerful forces within the agency. The latter currently claim priority (to the detriment of the former) because these garbage fish produce revenue via fishing licenses etc., but their continued existence threatens the long term viability of the entire resource. She's really at her wit's end with the current state of the state and the State's lack of willpower to enforce laws already on the books and to quit practices that are counterproductive and at cross purposes with responsible management of public resources.

Oh, and she hasn't had a COLA in over 3 years...and the agency had to absorb a 15% budget cut last year...and...oh well, it just gets worse and worse.
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post #7 of 10 (permalink) Old 02-14-2005, 10:11 AM
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RE: Wildlife scientists feeling heat, Species-protection data suppressed

Some of this article is probable.

The Project leaders sometimes strike me as fanatical about protecting Americas resources almost to the exclusion of everything else if you ever wondered where the Sierra Club, PETA and Greenpeace people did in between meetings, now you know, and they are motivated solely by the protection of plants and animals, honorable yes- always feasible-no.

Some of this article is bullshit.

We have a standing order not to use government time or computers to respond to surveys of anytime unless it was a FWS mandated survey. The USA today add makes it seem sinister but its a matter of using the taxpayers money for business only.

All of it is politically motivated.

Even though I'm not a fan of President Bush its not hard to see how some employees would want to discredit this administration by releasing saying that things have changed. Only the top level management has changed since the first election if the integrity left with the last management regime that is an internal problem not a political problem.

Yeah, I work at Fish and Wildlife at the BHW building in Ft Snelling, Minnesota. As a matter of fact I should probably be getting back to work.

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post #8 of 10 (permalink) Old 02-14-2005, 07:20 PM
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RE: Wildlife scientists feeling heat, Species-protection data suppressed

Quote:
Samurai1833 - 2/14/2005 12:11 PM

Some of this article is probable.

The Project leaders sometimes strike me as fanatical about protecting Americas resources almost to the exclusion of everything else if you ever wondered where the Sierra Club, PETA and Greenpeace people did in between meetings, now you know, and they are motivated solely by the protection of plants and animals, honorable yes- always feasible-no.

Some of this article is bullshit.

We have a standing order not to use government time or computers to respond to surveys of anytime unless it was a FWS mandated survey. The USA today add makes it seem sinister but its a matter of using the taxpayers money for business only.

All of it is politically motivated.

Even though I'm not a fan of President Bush its not hard to see how some employees would want to discredit this administration by releasing saying that things have changed. Only the top level management has changed since the first election if the integrity left with the last management regime that is an internal problem not a political problem.

Yeah, I work at Fish and Wildlife at the BHW building in Ft Snelling, Minnesota. As a matter of fact I should probably be getting back to work.
I was with Fish for a few years, then got folded into a nice little very-efficient agency that nearly got Gingrich'd--we had no constituency and we dealt with the biology. That was a signal for the hounds to kill the beast.

Now I'm in an impossibly byzantine bureaucracy that should have been slain decades ago. It is saddled with laws from early in the last century and a SES and GS-14/15 so top-heavy with stooges that we charge an exhorbitant rate to sister agencies, excluding yours, just to keep Senior Execs attending policy meetings about streamlining and reorganization and overhead rate charges. We'd save the taxpayer a boatload of money by giving everybody in SES a million dollars to just go away and leave us alone.
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post #9 of 10 (permalink) Old 02-15-2005, 01:35 AM
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RE: Wildlife scientists feeling heat, Species-protection data suppressed

Your hypocricy knows no bounds

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post #10 of 10 (permalink) Old 02-16-2005, 07:15 PM
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RE: Wildlife scientists feeling heat, Species-protection data suppressed

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koop - 2/15/2005 3:35 AM

Your hypocricy knows no bounds
I'll just bet you'll be able to explain what you mean, right?
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