Washington, DC – The scientific determination of water levels needed to support threatened coho salmon in the Klamath River was changed without any biological analysis in violation of the Endangered Species Act, according to documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).The documents are part of a whistleblower disclosure filed today by National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) fisheries biologist Michael Kelly with the U.S. Office of Special Counsel.
The conclusion of a draft biological opinion prepared by a NMFS team in April 2002 was abruptly altered at the behest of Bureau of Reclamation officials. The alterations lowered the minimal instream flow levels below what the fisheries scientists believed necessary for the survival of coho salmon in the Klamath River. Coho salmon are classified as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.
According to Kelly’s disclosure, the changes were undertaken without any of the required biological analyses and directly contrary to the legal duty to use “the best available science.”Recommended flows were cut by nearly one half with the balance supposedly addressed by the formation of a “multi-agency task force/working group.”
“Political pressure perverted the process, producing a biologically unsupported decision,” stated California PEER Director Karen Schambach.”The actions of the top officials in both NMFS and the Bureau of Reclamation can only be called a violation of the public trust.”
Kelly had served as the technical lead on the team developing the recommended flows but requested to be relieved of the position once it became clear the team was being ordered to accept the Bureau of Reclamation’s changes.
“The idea that politics would ride roughshod over sound science is insulting to every American,” commented Senator John Kerry, who chairs the Senate’s Oceans and Fisheries Subcommittee. “Citizens need to know that government is accountable to their interests, not ideological agendas. What Michael Kelly says happened regarding the Klamath River has shaken that pillar of the system. He has shown the courage of his convictions — he’s a hero, but I fear that like too many whistleblowers he’s going to be under even greater pressure from the politicos who didn’t want him to tell the truth in the first place. I’ll be watching to make sure he’s not punished for his act of courage, just as we’ll monitor the NOAA investigation to ensure these allegations are explored and there’s accountability for citizens.”
Under the Whistleblower Protection Act, if the Office of Special Counsel determines that Kelly’s disclosure has a “substantial likelihood” of demonstrating violations of law, abuse of authority or gross mismanagement it will oversee an investigation into the charges.
“These are alarming allegations that require a full investigation before a congressional panel,” said Congressman Mike Thompson (D-CA).If true, the administration must be held fully responsible. We are 6 months into the administration’s 10-year water plan and the result is over 30,000 dead salmon. This catastrophe has cost California’s North Coast communities at least $4 million in damages this year, and is expected to cost tens of millions for years to come.”
Read the final biological opinion.