House Democrats challenge Interior on altered report

Secretary Zinke said he hadn’t seen drafts omitting humans’ role in climate change.


This article was originally published by  and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

House Democrats grilled Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke last week about National Park Service officials deleting all references to the human cause of climate change in drafts of a long-awaited report.

Zinke that he and other political appointees at the Interior Department, which oversees the Park Service, have not seen the draft. And he repeated a vow that he will not censor scientific reports.

Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting reported earlier this month that Park Service officials had edited the scientific report, which outlines the risks of sea level rise and storm surge at 118 coastal national parks. Groups of Senate and House Democrats several days later by the Interior’s inspector general.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, with Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, inspect hurricane damage at Everglades National Park in 2017.

At the hearing, Zinke said the drafts were obtained through a public records request to a university and that he wants an investigation into how the media reviewed the drafts before he did.

Rep. Chellie Pingree told Zinke she is concerned about sea level rise at Acadia National Park in her home state of Maine. “When that report comes out, I personally don’t want to see it edited to remove any reference,” she said.

Zinke responded, “If it’s a scientific report, I’m not going to change a comma.”

Earlier in the hearing, Rep. Betty McCollum, a Democrat from Minnesota, referred to a similar vow Zinke made last month at a Senate hearing.“You even challenged any member to find an altered document and now we have that proof,” she said. “This clear interference of political leadership is forcing employees to violate their scientific integrity policies and it must stop.”


Reveal has obtained new drafts of the report that show a higher-ranking National Park Service official deleted references to the human cause of climate change.

In a draft dated March 21, the lead author, University of Colorado researcher Maria Caffrey, rejected the deletions of “anthropogenic” and “human activities” and restored the earlier version of her report, according to a draft obtained through a Colorado open records request. Caffrey confirmed that she had restored all the deleted references to the human’s role in climate change.

But a subsequent draft, dated April 1, shows that the head of the National Park Service climate change response program, Cat Hawkins Hoffman, re-deleted references to “anthropogenic” and “human activities.” Hoffman, a career Park Service manager, is listed as an author of the report.

For example, in the executive summary, Hoffman removed a phrase that explains that humans are causing the sea level rise and storm surge that imperils parks.

Apparently compromising with Caffrey, Hoffman allowed some references to the human role in climate change farther down in the report, but in a watered-down way.

Caffrey’s version stated that “[A]nthropogenic climate change has significantly increased the rate of global sea level rise.” Hoffman deleted that statement. Her version blurs the connection between human emissions and sea level rise:

“[R]ecent analyses reveal that the rate of sea level rise in the last century was greater than during any preceding century in at least 2,800 years, with rates almost doubling since 1993. Human activities continue to release carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere, causing the Earth’s atmosphere to warm.” (Note: Scientific references removed by Reveal.)

Caffrey told Hoffman that the university advised her not to accept any changes, and that her contract with the Park Service establishes that the report is her intellectual property.

Neither Hoffman nor the media contact for her unit responded to requests for interviews.

Some veterans of the National Park Service were disappointed to hear about the edits.

Mike Soukup was a scientist at the National Park Service for three decades and with responsibility for science and natural resources from 1995 to 2007. He recalled having to stand up to political appointees who wanted to change scientific reports.

“Washington is a place of compromise. Sometimes you have to go along with political appointees,” Soukup said. “But changing scientific reports to get along with an administration, that’s uncalled for and unethical and shouldn’t happen.”

This story was produced by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting, a nonprofit news organization. Learn more at  and subscribe to the Reveal podcast, produced with PRX, at .

Elizabeth Shogren can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter: . 

NewTowncarShare News Classifieds
  • Are you looking for a positive and success oriented work environment, the opportunity to join a (small but) dynamic group of people supporting watershed activities...
  • Boise-based Winter Wildlands Alliance is looking for an experienced and highly motivated individual to organize our annual Backcountry Film Festival and Tour and coordinate additional...
  • SUMMARY Leads, administers and manages the land conservation, conservation easement stewardship, and property management activities of the City of Fort Collins Natural Areas Department within...
  • Position Summary: Western Resource Advocates (WRA) is seeking a Staff Attorney who is passionate about Western communities and the protection of the natural environment to...
  • Deschutes River Conservancy in Bend, Oregon
  • Position Summary: Western Resource Advocates seeks a passionate Water Policy Analyst with knowledge of western water issues to join our Healthy Rivers Team to strengthen...
  • 9+ acre inholding. Passive solar strawbale off the grid and next to the Continental Divide Trail in ponderosa pine/doug fir forest at 7400.
  • Conservation nonprofit Friends of Cedar Mesa in Bluff, Utah is hiring an Education Center Director to oversee the operation of the Bears Ears Education Center....
  • Friends of the Verde River, Cottonwood, AZ. Apply at
  • Verde River Exchange - Friends of the Verde River, Cottonwood, AZ. Apply at
  • Teton County Planning & Building is hiring! Our ideal candidate is a team-player, a problem-solver, pays attention to detail, and can clearly communicate technical material...
  • Studio Architects is seeking a full time Architectural drafts-person/project manager with1-3 years of experience to join our firm. At Studio Architects our mission is to...
  • needed for 16,000+ acre conservation property in south central Colorado. Qualified candidate would have experience working on a ranch or wilderness property, general forestry/fire management...
  • Nanny for 18-mnth-old. Yearly salary, vacation, health insurance. Spanish/other foreign-language native spkr prefrrd.
  • Washington Association of Land Trusts seeks an ED to build on WALTs significant success & to lead the association to new levels of achievement. See...
  • If you are deeply committed to public service and would like to become part of our high performing, passionate and diverse team, NCAT is looking...
  • Secluded, energy efficient Southwestern home on 40 wooded acres. Broker - Rand Porter - United Country Real Colorado Properties. 970-261-1248, $425K
  • 57 acres in Skull Valley, AZ, 17 miles from Prescott, year-round creek, swimming holes, secluded canyon, hiking/meditation trails, oaks, pines, garden, greenhouse. House, office building,...
  • Historic 1893 Ranch Headquarters. 4 Bdrm, 3.5 Ba, 4000 ft2. Remodeled 2002. Includes 2 studio apts, stables, arena, workshop, 5 RV hookups. Chirachua & Peloncillo...
  • The Vice President of Retail Operations will provide overall leadership and accountability for purchasing, product development, merchandising planning, visual merchandising, retail operational excellence, oversight and...