Sacramento — The biologist who filed a federal whistleblower complaint concerning political interference in setting water levels prior to the massive Klamath fish kill in the fall of 2002 has resigned from federal service. In a stinging letter delivered to his managers at National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries and released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) Michael Kelly accuses the agency of politicizing scientific decision-making and misleading the public.
In his resignation letter, Kelly, a federal biologist for nine years, cites a series of decisions beyond the controversial Klamath fish-kill that were taken contrary to scientific evidence and to the detriment of harmed federally protected salmon and other marine life. These actions include the decision not to list the green sturgeon, the dolphin-safe tuna decision, and the recent position counting of hatchery salmon as part of the protected “natural population.” —
“My particular case is just symptomatic of this agency's failure to correctly apply science and caution to its decisions and public pronouncements. I speak for many of my fellow biologists who are embarrassed and disgusted by the agency's apparent misuse of science.”
“Federal service has just lost another biologist with the integrity to speak up,” stated Karen Schambach, Director of California PEER, whose organization represented Kelly in the 2002 whistleblower case. “It is becoming increasingly difficult for self-respecting scientists to continue working in agencies where politics now routinely and flagrantly trump science.”
Most recently, Kelly was assigned last year as the lead for a Biological Opinion on a project to convert a salt marsh at the mouth of the Eel River to a fresh water pond. The salt marsh is important juvenile rearing habitat for threatened Chinook salmon, as well as other estuary species. The salt marsh was reestablished several years ago when a levee was breached. The California Department of Fish and Game wants to rebuild the levee and drain the salt water, creating a fresh water pond that would concentrate wild ducks for hunters.
Kelly’s draft Biological Opinion argues that the project would jeopardize the Chinook salmon, which is listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act. Overall population trends for the Eel River reflect at least an 80 percent decline in salmon from the early 1960's, and roughly a 97 percent decline over the last century. Kelly’s Regional Manager, Jim Lecky, opposed Kelly’s finding. Kelly foresaw a repeat of his whistleblower ordeal two years ago.
PEER is now calling on the California Department of Fish and Game to withdraw the Eel River project from consideration. “The State of California has a public trust responsibility to act as the steward of our wildlife, including wild salmon,” Schambach admonishes. “Statutes specifically directed the Department of Fish and Game to double the salmon populations by year 2000. Instead, DFG continues policies that are driving wild salmon and conscientious biologists to extinction.”