Felix Smith


Recorded: June 7, 2012

Here is a story from a federal whistleblower. Felix's life changed the day he and other wildlife biologists went to a California wildlife sanctuary (Kesterson National Wildlife Refuge) to survey the birds and wildlife. What they found were significant waterfowl deformities in the existing population. Mr. Smith suffered from harassment at the agency for many years. The courageous Felix Smith shares a message that is critical for those in public service or in natural resource management careers.

Felix Smith is a retired fish and wildlife biologist, a hunter and fisherman and a courageous advocate for the protection of the public trust. Felix believes that our natural resources must be fostered; they should be uncontaminated and healthful so that people of all generations can enjoy clean water, clean air and healthy fish and wildlife.

For 35 years, Felix was a fishery biologist with the US Fish and Wildlife Service. His life’s mission became evident after he visited a wildlife refuge in the San Joaquin Valley in 1983 to study the wildlife. His team of biologists discovered waterfowl that were severely deformed as a result of excess selenium from commercial irrigation water. Ever since this terrible discovery, Felix has dedicated his life to calling attention to proposed development activities that would result in contaminated air and water, or cause harm to fish and wildlife resources in the public trust. Felix was honored in 2010 by Save the American River Association as a National River Hero. You can watch another video of Felix by clicking on this link.

Felix Smith: The truth has got to be on the surface. Don’t try to hide it. Don’t try to varnish it. Just lay it out there. And many times it is tough to stick with it. What happens is, people get questioned about their position or their data and instead of them going to their inner soul to defend it, they start weakening and losing their focus and are willing to compromise. I was told many times and I should learn to compromise sooner. I said “I don’t know why I’ve got to compromise when I’m giving away public resources,” and that’s the way I still see it today. You get the best information you can, get the best biology done, get the best information set forward, don’t try to negotiate in the field. It’s the politicians that should do that and its important that we convey that down to the new employee in an agency whether its BLM or the state or what have you, or the Fish and Wildlife Service and the mid level managers as well. Now, a lot of those mid level managers are saying “well, I’ve got to meet certain criteria and I’ve got to compromise.” And I said “you don’t. Force it up. Let them compromise. You don’t want it on your back because when you write a report and it goes in a file and can be called upon on the FOIA (Freedom of Information Act Request, it can be used as a document in court. Now what are you going to tell the judge? You lied in your report? You don’t want to do that. You want to tell the truth so when you’re called upon, you can raise your right hand and say ‘this is what I said and this is what I believed.’ You’re free.”

Felix Smith: I worked 35 years, 34 years, I’ve been trained from college, extra college credits, special programs, workshops, over 35 years and I’ve got a value that the public should be able to use. When I do it, I do it not as a…I would say I want it done as an independent voice that’s not aligned to any type of organization per se, but is aligned with what is the best can we do for the resources involved?

Felix Smith: And on the American River it’s basically this, how can we manage the water coming out of Folsom Reservoir down the American River, get the best crack we can and the best benefits we can for Chinook salmon and steelhead? Chinook salmon of course, supports a major off shore fishery, both commercial and sport in California, Oregon and Washington. Steelhead is a good sport fishing in the American River and on the Sacramento. If we provide the conditions for out migrating Chinook and if we provide conditions for out migrating young steelheads, smolts, that are within the 60 to 62 degree range, we will well be within the protective zone for American [unintelligible].

Felix Smith: I think that the state is going to have to stand up and say that taking water out of the Trinity [River] solely to irrigate desert lands on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley and the damage it causes to ground water to service water, is an unreasonable use of water. People ought to know where money is being spent on a federal project and what the benefits are and what the impacts are. The impacts to the west side is selenium drainage deforming the birds – and dead fish.

Felix Smith: You’ve got to have a vision by someone saying “what do we want California to look like? Do you want it to have salmon and steelhead? Do we want it to have clean water in our streams? Do we want to have a ground water supply that is valuable and untainted with poisons? Do we want to have a landscape that is not smoke filled?” All those things are important. We’ve got to say “yes,” you’ve got to keep hitting, don’t back off. You’ve got to make the point and you’ve got to make it often enough so people will start paying attention. And if you can get help from somebody else, do it. So that’s what I tried to do.