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U.S. accused of silencing experts on polar bears, climate change
Jane Kay, SF Chronicle
Scientists told not to speak officially at conferences
The federal agency responsible for protecting Arctic polar bears has barred two Alaska scientists from speaking about polar bears, climate change or sea ice at international meetings in the next few weeks, a move that environmentalists say is censorship.
The rule was issued last month by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service but was made public this week. The federal government has proposed listing the polar bear as a threatened species, and the wildlife agency is receiving public comment on the proposal.
“It’s a gag order,” said Deborah Williams, a former high-level Interior Department official in Anchorage, Alaska, who received documents on Wednesday from Alaska scientists who chose to remain unnamed. The documents make the subjects of polar bears, climate change and sea ice off limits to all scientists who haven’t been cleared to speak on the topics.
Two of the memos are copies of those prepared for Craig Perham and Janet E. Hohn, who are traveling to Russia and Norway this month and in April. The scientists “will not be speaking on or responding to these issues” of climate change, polar bears and sea ice, the memos say. Before any trip, such a memo must be sent to the administrator of the Fish and Wildlife Service in Washington.
(X March 2007)
Protocol Is Cited in Limiting Scientists’ Talks on Climate
Felicity Barringer, NY Times
The director of the Fish and Wildlife Service defended the agency requirement that two employees going to international meetings on the Arctic not discuss climate change, saying diplomatic protocol limited employees to an agreed-on agenda.
…The stipulations that the employees “will not be speaking on or responding to” questions about climate change, polar bears and sea ice are “consistent with staying with our commitment to the other countries to talk about only what’s on the agenda,” said the director of the agency, H. Dale Hall.
…Tina Kreisher, a spokeswoman for the Interior Department, parent of the wildlife service, said the memorandum did not prohibit Ms. Hohn from talking about climate change “over a beer” but indicated that climate was “not the subject of the agenda.”
…Asked for the formal agenda of the Russia meetings, Ms. Williams of the World Wildlife Fund said no such document had been negotiated.
…Top-down control of government scientists’ discussions of climate change heated up as an issue last year, after appointees at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration kept journalists from interviewing climate scientists and discouraged news releases on global warming.
(8 March 2007)
Memos Tell Officials How to Discuss Climate
Andrew C. Revkin, NY Times
Internal memorandums circulated in the Alaskan division of the Federal Fish and Wildlife Service appear to require government biologists or other employees traveling in countries around the Arctic not to discuss climate change, polar bears or sea ice if they are not designated to do so.
In December, the Bush administration, facing a deadline under a suit by environmental groups, proposed listing polar bears throughout their range as threatened under the Endangered Species Act because the warming climate is causing a summertime retreat of sea ice that the bears use for seal hunting.
Environmentalists are trying to use such a listing to force the United States to restrict heat-trapping gases that scientists have linked to global warming as a way of limiting risks to the 22,000 or so bears in the far north.
(8 March 2007)
“Don’t discuss polar bears”: memo to scientists
Deborah Zabarenko, Reuters
WASHINGTON () – Polar bears, sea ice and global warming are taboo subjects, at least in public, for some U.S. scientists attending meetings abroad, environmental groups and a top federal wildlife official said on Thursday.
Environmental activists called this scientific censorship, which they said was in line with the Bush administration’s history of muzzling dissent over global climate change.
But H. Dale Hall, director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said this policy was a long-standing one, meant to honor international protocols for meetings where the topics of discussion are negotiated in advance.
(9 March 2007)