The Trump Administration Muzzles Federal Science Agencies
As the Trump administration gears up this week, there are disturbing signals that it is planning to halt important and ongoing scientific work, and to prevent federal departments and agencies from communicating their results to the public. We saw hints of this in the very first days, when the National Park Service came under fire for sharing images comparing crowd sizes at various inaugural events. The ensuing days strongly suggest that the new administration’s reaction was only the beginning, and that agencies are facing extreme pressure to censor their data and halt important research efforts.
Why You Should Care
Federal agencies have a long history of engaging in scientific research on a wide array of topics, from climate change impacts, to disease causes and treatments, to how wildlife managers can successfully restore habitat for imperiled species, to best practices for farmers and ranchers to improve production. Much of this data reflects national research priorities that don’t easily translate into market opportunities and many of them would have a difficult time finding funding outside of government channels.
Silence Across the Agencies
Muzzling the EPA— As we discussed on this blog just last week, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is in charge of preventing pollution to our drinking water, stream and wetland habitats, and the air we breathe. It is also tasked with maintaining a livable climate, to the degree possible, a key priority for both people and wildlife. Perhaps not coincidentally, the agency also seems to be bearing the brunt of the new administration’s war on reality. It was announced Monday that the EPA has been ordered to freeze all of its grant programs, including research, environmental cleanup, and education and innovation projects. Agency staff were also slapped with a memo ordering them to cease publication of press releases, new website content, and social media posts, with direction that all communications should be routed through the Trump transition team staff. By Wednesday, the lockdown had broadened to include data and reports for publication. Reports also circulated early Wednesday that EPA staff had been directed to remove climate change data from their website, but by late afternoon that order appeared to have been rescinded (at least for the time being); though climate change information reportedly disappeared from the State Department website on the same day.
Taking the “Service” out of Health and Human Services—The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has also been told not to speak to the public, or even to Congress. It’s a move that might prove terribly unfortunate, given that one of HHS’s key agencies is the Center for Disease Control (CDC), which will likely have a very difficult time controlling diseases if it can’t tell the public about them. In the days before the inauguration, the CDC “abruptly canceled” a planned conference on the impacts of climate change on public health. Many of the impacts of climate change to people also affect wildlife. Severe droughts and extended wildfire seasons impact forest habitats, as well as asthma sufferers and fire-affected communities. Harmful algal blooms, more common in warm waters, poison fish, birds and marine mammals in addition to affecting water supplies. And when research and communication on these topics is silenced, we as a nation lose the ability to help both people and wildlife adapt to these challenges.
It’s not all bad news.
Like the whiplash directive and reversal on EPA’s climate data, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced a similar set of restrictions on its Agricultural Research Service early in the week, only to rescind the announcement a day later. So apparently public outcry worked, or someone at the agency noticed the folly of telling their agricultural researchers that they couldn’t communicate with America’s farmers and ranchers. Other agencies and allies are finding creative ways to get the word out and ensure that their work is preserved, including the 40+ ‘rogue’ Twitter accounts from federal science agencies including U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, EPA, National Park Service and a number of national parks.
But here at Defenders, we remain deeply concerned that vital research and data on endangered species populations, ecosystem services, water quality, and climate change is at risk. Things are moving fast and changing faster, so follow us on social media to stay up-to-date on the status of federal data, as well as cabinet nominees, legislative threats and other topics important to wildlife conservation.