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Longtime Salmon Spokesman Silenced

by Craig Welch
Seattle Times, June 1, 2006

For more than a decade, Brian Gorman has been the government's voice on salmon in Seattle, doling out news releases and explaining policies on everything from threatened Puget Sound chinook to Columbia and Snake river dams.

But as of this spring, Bush administration officials have directed that all questions about salmon policy in Washington state be handled by political appointees, often as far away as Washington, D.C.

"I essentially have been told that I can't speak about salmon issues to reporters," said Gorman, chief spokesman in Seattle for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which oversees Northwest salmon policy.

NOAA officials say the change is merely a way to better coordinate public information. But it's only the latest example of the Bush administration tightening how employees of federal natural-resource agencies handle politically charged topics.

This winter, NASA's top climate scientist told The New York Times that the administration was censoring him on global warming. In April, scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey and NOAA told the Washington Post that public-affairs officials were limiting their openness with the press.

As for Gorman, a public-affairs officer who has worked at NOAA for 30 years, explanations vary for his sudden change of roles.

The Washington Post on Wednesday noted that the change in Gorman's ability to talk about salmon came a day after Gorman was quoted suggesting that a judge's ruling and a new report, both rebutting administration positions on water policy in Oregon's troubled Klamath Basin, might be looked back upon as moments when "things really turned around for fish." Gorman referred questions Wednesday to his boss, Jordan St. John, the NOAA public-affairs director in Washington, D.C.

St. John at first disputed there had been a specific change at all, saying he had merely reminded Gorman sometime in April that press inquiries should be referred to NOAA's regional director, Bob Lohn, who mostly works in Portland, or to policy experts in Washington, D.C.

"My philosophy is that it should be my boss who is quoted," St. John said. "I was reminding Brian that this was our normal procedure."

But Lohn said Wednesday that the decision was made in direct response to the ongoing controversy over the Klamath Basin. The battle involves several federal agencies, and "there was a desire to have a single point of contact," Lohn said. It was a "coordination issue, not a gag order," he added.

Lohn denied Gorman's quote had played a role.

Scott Rayder, the chief of staff for NOAA, acknowledged he spoke to St. John about having Lohn take over for Gorman as the spokesman on salmon policy.

"Bob Lohn is the lead public spokesman," Rayder said. "He's got the big regional picture."

Even so, on Wednesday Lohn said that NOAA will reconsider Gorman's role, because he "has more experience and remains more experienced and has a greater knowledge base" on local salmon issues than people in Washington, D.C.

"As the Klamath issue has largely become more settled, we'll probably return to more normal ways," Lohn said.

Craig Welch
Longtime Salmon Spokesman Silenced
Seattle Times, June 1, 2006

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