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Bay Area Scientists Push Back Against Federal Freeze on Meetings

by Alison Hawkes on May 12, 2017

One of the projects supported by the California Landscape Conservation Collaborative is to model sea level rise across salt marshes. Photo: CA LCC
One of the projects supported by the California Landscape Conservation Collaborative is to model sea level rise across salt marshes. Photo: CA LCC

A biannual meeting of California scientists and natural resource managers slated for late May has been officially cancelled after a Department of Interior memo was issued last week prohibiting all of the agency-led committees from meeting this summer.

But state, non-governmental, and tribal partners of the California Landscape Conservation Cooperative—a network created by the Department in 2010 to address resource issues affected by climate change —intend to meet anyway, says Ellie Cohen, executive director of Point Blue Conservation Science and the former chair of the CA LCC steering committee. Staff from seven federal agencies, including the National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, NOAA, and U.S. Forest Service, will presumably not be in attendance based on the Department’s recent directive.

It’s a partnership. One partner is prohibited from doing something, and we believe it’s important to continue meeting together and have public conversations,” Cohen said.

The memo, issued May 5 by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, suspends meetings of more than 200 boards, committees, subcommittees, and other internal and external advisory bodies across the country until September 2017 or later. It states the directive is aimed at “restoring trust” in the Department’s decision-making and that “begins with institutionalizing state and local input and ongoing collaboration.” The memo also requests each committee provide information about what it does, the costs and resources it uses, and lists of all participants, meeting dates, the most recent charter of the group, as well as other details.

For me, personally, and I’m not reflecting any official stance from Point Blue,” said Cohen, “it is reminiscent of the 1930s in Germany where public meetings were banned. The essence of democracy in my opinion includes transparency and openness.”

She wonders whether the information collected from these committees will be targeted in federal budget cuts. 

Are they searching for key words like ‘science’ and ‘climate change’ to purge federal funding in those efforts? I don’t know what the goal is here,” said Cohen. “This is unprecedented and hasn’t ever happened since these partnerships were founded. It’s shocking, frightening, and wrong.”

In objection, California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, co-signed a letter addressed to Zinke with seven other Western senators. The group mentions the DOI’s resource advisory councils, which were formed in 1995 to get diverse community input on public land management issues. “During your confirmation hearing you stressed the importance of local input and collaboration on public land management issues. This is exactly what RACs were formed to do … Postponing their progress is a detriment to public land and forest management goals, to jobs and local economies, and to public confidence in federal government.”

The CA LCC’s steering committee is comprised of 21 members, including 8 federal agency staff. Despite their inability to attend, the conference call scheduled on May 31 will go on with other state and non-governmental partners, such as Point Blue, Tuolumne Band of Me-Wuk Indians, the Nature Conservancy, and the California Department of Water Resources.

The CA LCC helps resource managers, scientists, and conservationists collaborate on project goals, especially in areas related to accelerated changes associated with climate change and other human impacts. The CA LCC coverage area includes the San Francisco Bay Area to Baja, California. View the DOI memo here:

2017 SIGNED DOI Memorandum, Board and Commissions, 05 05 17

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