Scientists claim government squelched their salmon report

Six leading marine scientists, who were hired as government advisers only to find their recommendations stripped from an official report, went public today with their views — that federal action is urgently needed to protect more than a dozen populations of West Coast salmon and steelhead trout from the threat of extinction.

The scientists published their recommendations in today’s issue of the journal Science after they were dropped from a scientific review of salmon recovery methods commissioned by the National Marine Fisheries Service.

"We were trying to do an honest job and we were called radical environmentalists," said Ransom Myers, a fisheries biologist from Dalhousie University in Canada. "It was troubling to administrators we objected to the policy that habitat did not need to be protected. There was a clear implication if we continued to talk about policy, the group would be disbanded."

The group, both in its initial review and in Science, recommended the agency rewrite its regulations to ensure the continuation of federal protections for salmon and steelhead in Washington, Oregon and California in the wake of a federal court ruling that put those protections in jeopardy.

William Hogarth, director of the National Marine Fisheries Service, disputed the scientists’ claims that their views were squelched. "We don’t censor our scientists," Hogarth said. "They were simply asked to separate out the policy opinions and send them to (Northwest Regional Administrator) Bob Lohn or myself and not make it part of the scientific report, which is put on the Web site."

The debate in this case involves the fate of 15 populations of salmon and steelhead trout that spend most of their lives in the ocean but return to spawn in rivers and streams along the West Coast from Central California to the U.S.-Canadian border.

All 15 of these distinct populations are sufficiently diminished to be listed as threatened or endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.

However, the protected status of all 15 is being challenged by developers, farmers, ranchers, timber interests and private-property advocates who want to end restrictions on activities that the government says can harm streams that these fish use to spawn and raise their young.

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