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Agency Scientists Silenced by Gag Orders

Austin....In order to prevent federal listing under the Endangered Species Act, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department under Governor George Bush has dismantled the state's Natural Heritage program, ordered biological reports buried and given affected industry preferential influence over scientific peer review panels, according to documents released today by Texas Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (TexasPEER). Agency scientists who authored reports containing less than optimistic findings about sensitive species have been threatened or reassigned.

After campaigning under the slogan "Let Texans Run Texas", Gov. Bush and his top appointees repeatedly acted to block efforts by the U.S. Department of Interior to designate animals as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act. The Governor has personally intervened in cases relating to the listing of salamander species by:

> successfully lobbying Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt not to list the Barton Springs Salamander because of concerns about the impact of listing on "the use of private property" (nonetheless, a federal court later declared the salamander to be endangered).

Under Governor Bush, TPWD orchestrated the process to create opposition to the listing of the salamander by:

> blocking public access to scientific reports on species health; and

> naming persons with ties to real estate and development interests to supposedly neutral scientific review panels.

"In Texas, wildlife protection depends upon whether the survival of a species is convenient for dominant economic interests," stated Texas PEER Scientist Dean Keddy-Hector, a former zoologist with TPWD. "Scientific suppression, gag orders and threats of retaliation are the main tools employed to keep agency professional staff toeing the company line."

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