The New York Times
March 9, 2007
By FELICITY BARRINGER
WASHINGTON, March 8 — The director of the Fish and Wildlife Service defended the agency requirement that two employees going to international meetings on the Arctic not discuss climate change, saying diplomatic protocol limited employees to an agreed-on agenda.
Two memorandums written about a week ago and reported by The New York Times and the Web site of The Seattle Post-Intelligencer on Thursday set strict parameters for what the two employees could and could not discuss at meetings in Norway and Russia.
The stipulations that the employees “will not be speaking on or responding to” questions about climate change, polar bears and sea ice are “consistent with staying with our commitment to the other countries to talk about only what’s on the agenda,” said the director of the agency, H. Dale Hall.
One of the two employees, Janet E. Hohn, is scheduled to accompany a delegation to Norway led by Julia Gourley of the State Department at a meeting on conserving Arctic animals and plants.
Tina Kreisher, a spokeswoman for the Interior Department, parent of the wildlife service, said the memorandum did not prohibit Ms. Hahn from talking about climate change “over a beer” but indicated that climate was “not the subject of the agenda.”
The other employee, Craig Perham, an expert on polar bears, was invited by the World Wildlife Fund to help advise villagers along the Siberian coast on avoiding encounters with the bears, said Margaret Williams, director of the Bering Sea program of the fund.
With increasing frequency, polar bears are being found near the villages of the Chukchi in part because their migrations have shifted as warming trends alter the sea ice.
In 2006, after a 15-year-old girl was killed by a marauding bear, the local groups reached out to Russian scientists and the World Wildlife Fund for help, Ms. Williams said. She asked the Fish and Wildlife Service to take along Mr. Perham to seacoast villages less than 250 miles from Alaska to offer his expertise.
A memorandum on Feb. 26 said Mr. Perham “understands the administration’s position on climate change, polar bears and sea ice and will not be speaking on or responding to those issues.”
Mr. Hall, the director, said in an interview Thursday that “these memoranda could have been better worded,” but that requiring strict adherence to a set agenda had “been a longstanding practice.”
Asked for the formal agenda of the Russia meetings, Ms. Williams of the World Wildlife Fund said no such document had been negotiated.
“There was,” she said “an invitation letter from us to the Fish and Wildlife Service. It always talked about human-bear interactions.”
Top-down control of government scientists’ discussions of climate change heated up as an issue last year, after appointees at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration kept journalists from interviewing climate scientists and discouraged news releases on global warming.
The NASA administrator, Michael D. Griffin, ordered a review of policies, culminating in a decision that scientists could speak on science and policy as long as they did not say they spoke for the agency.
In April, John H. Marburger III, President Bush’s science adviser, sent the new NASA policy to more than 12 agencies, including the Interior Department, urging them to follow suit.