Is a new memo directing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to keep the public in the dark regarding implementation of the Endangered Species Act?

A leaked government memo reveals Trump administration guidelines for withholding public records regarding how the Endangered Species Act is carried out, according to the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD). The CBD, which obtained the memo, claims that the document allows records to be withheld where top wildlife scientists disagree with Trump political appointees.

The Center for Biological Diversity’s government attorney, Meg Townsend, said in a press release that the leaked memo exemplifies how anti-wildlife the Trump administration is. She noted that any attempt to stifle science in favor of hidden political agendas will not bode well for endangered species. According to her, “this memo keeps the public in the dark and creates the perfect environment for political meddling” in wildlife decisions.

The memo instructs officials of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services to restrict public knowledge regarding execution of the Endangered Species Act and processing of FOIA requests. CBD claims this means public information concerning protected species can now be withheld, delayed or modified to suit the present administration. The document provides regulations on the type of information to withhold from the general public. These include policy drafts, briefing documents, notes and summaries of resolutions reached at meetings.

Several parts of the memo’s guidance have already been implemented, according to the CBD. This can be seen in how the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service removed Yellowstone grizzly bears from endangered protection in 2017 and in the Keystone XL pipeline construction lawsuit.

“Directing the agency to hide science violates every notion of the scientific process, which is supposed to be open and reviewable,” said Townsend. “If the Service covers up dissenting views, it can get away with all kinds of bad decisions that could do enormous damage to some of America’s most imperiled plants and animals.”

Keeping the public in the dark on matters relating to wildlife protection violates the spirit of the Freedom of Information Act, Townsend claims and it will make it harder for the public to file lawsuits related to the endangered species act.

“This Trump memo would send all future Fish and Wildlife Service decisions into a black hole and result in more animals going extinct,” Townsend said. “If the Trump administration would simply let the Fish and Wildlife Service follow the law and support decisions with science, it wouldn’t need the memo or have anything to hide.”

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