It’s become a familiar story with the Trump administration: Scientists write a report that shows the administration’s policies will cause environmental damage, then the administration buries the report and fires the scientists.
The latest chapter in that book happened this summer in California when federal officials suppressed a scientific report that warned that the administration’s plans to deliver more water to farms in California’s Central Valley will push critically endangered California salmon even closer to extinction. It will also starve a threatened population of steelhead trout and West Coast killer whales that feed on the endangered Chinook, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Rather than cause the administration to rethink its policy, it treated science as something inconvenient. Two days after the scientists handed in the 1,123 page report, classified as a biological opinion, a fisheries official took it down. The Trump administration then replaced the scientists with the National Marine Fisheries Service who had been drafting the biological opinion and brought in other staff to revise the biological opinion, as the Sacramento Bee reported.
In the initial report, released on July 1 and then suppressed, the National Marine Fisheries Service pulls no punches in forcefully concluding that the increased water deliveries will jeopardize the existence of endangered winter-run Chinook salmon. The agency wrote that the changes “will produce multiple stressors” on winter-run salmon “that are expected to reduce survival and the overall fitness of individuals,” the agency wrote, as the Los Angeles Times reported.
It went on to also highlight the hazards to threatened spring-run Chinook and threatened Central Valley steelhead, as well as endangered Southern Resident killer whales whose numbers are perilously low, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Environmentalists and salmon fishing groups classified the maneuver as a blatant attempt by the Trump administration to manipulate science in order to ratchet up water deliveries to a group of wealthy farmers who used to have a top Trump administration official on their payroll — a charge the administration denies, as the Sacramento Bee reported
“Literally before our eyes, we’re seeing science suppressed by monied political interests,” said Noah Oppenheim, executive director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, which represents commercial fishermen, to the Los Angeles Times.
The biological opinion that the administration put the kibosh on said that harmful impacts will include warm river temperatures lethal to fish eggs and newly hatched salmon; low flows in the Sacramento River; and an increase in salmon deaths at the enormous government pumps that send water south from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, according to the Los Angeles Times.
The winter-run Chinook have been particularly vexing for conservationists. The fish is just one of nine species that are at most risk of extinction in the near future, the scientists wrote in their report, as the Los Angeles Times reported. Their odds of extinction has increased over the last decade, partly because water releases from Shasta Lake during California’s severe drought were too warm for salmon eggs and hatchlings. Four years ago, 96 percent of the eggs and new-hatched fish died.