Memos Tell Officials How to Discuss Climate
The New York Times, Andrew Revkin, March 8, 2007
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.
It remains unclear whether such a listing will be issued. The Fish and Wildlife Service this week held the first of several hearings in Alaska and Washington on the question.
Over the past week, biologists and wildlife officials received a cover note and two sample memorandums to be used as a guide in preparing travel requests. Under the heading Foreign Travel New Requirement Please Review and Comply, Importance: High, the cover note said:
Please be advised that all foreign travel requests (SF 1175 requests) and any future travel requests involving or potentially involving climate change, sea ice and/or polar bears will also require a memorandum from the regional director to the director indicating wholl be the official spokesman on the trip and the one responding to questions on these issues, particularly polar bears.
The sample memorandums, described as to be used in writing travel requests, indicate that the employee seeking permission to travel understands the administrations position on climate change, polar bears, and sea ice and will not be speaking on or responding to these issues.
Electronic copies of the memorandums and cover note were forwarded to The New York Times by Deborah Williams, an environmental campaigner in Alaska and a former Interior Department official in the Clinton administration.
This sure sounds like a Soviet-style directive to me, Ms. Williams said.
A spokesman for the Fish and Wildlife Service in Alaska, Bruce Woods, confirmed the authenticity of the notes, but interpreted them differently.
The cover memo makes it clear nobody is being told they cant talk about these issues, Mr. Woods said. What the administration wants to know is who is going to be spokesperson and do they understand administration policy? Its not saying you wont talk about it.
Limits on government scientists freedom to speak freely about climate change became a heated issue last year after news reports showed that political appointees at NASA had canceled journalists interview requests with climate scientists and discouraged news releases on global warming.