Scientific Fraud Condemns Panther

Last May, BushGreenwatch reported that a 17-year veteran of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) had filed a legal complaint against the agency, charging that agency officials deliberately used flawed scientific data in setting policy for protecting the Florida panther, an endangered species with only 60-80 animals remaining in the wild.

Now Fish and Wildlife officials have notified the agency employee, biologist Andrew Eller, that they intend to fire him for "unacceptable" performance. Eller has spent the last 10 years working in the Florida panther recovery program.

The move follows the firing on July 9 of Theresa Chambers, chief of the U.S. Park Police, after she publicly stated that the government response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks had stretched her staff's capacities to the limits, and that she needed more resources. Eller's dismissal reinforces the growing perception that the Bush Administration is utterly intolerant of internal dissent.

Eller's legal challenge, which was filed jointly with the advocacy group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) alleges that studies used by FWS inaccurately inflate the panthers' population in South Florida, thereby minimizing the amount of habitat the animals need to survive.

"I could no longer tolerate the scientific charade where agency officials pretended that the Florida panther was not in jeopardy," said Eller.

Specifically, the agency assumes in its population estimates that all known panthers are breeding adults, and that the population includes no juveniles or aged animals. The agency further minimized habitat needs by considering only daytime habitat, when the panthers are at rest, and not nighttime habitat needs, when they are active.

"The conservation implications of these problems are that future generations will see the Florida panther only on personalized license plates," Eller said.

On July 7, the Fish and Wildlife Service replied to Eller's challenge and admitted using flawed data, stating:

"We acknowledge that despite being published in peer-reviewed scientific journals, some of the information you are challenging has, over time, been determined to have limitations..."

Nevertheless, FWS asserted that it would continue using the inaccurate data until 2006, by which time several huge developments in Southwest Florida, within shrinking panther habitat, may be approved. According to PEER, Fish and Wildlife is under enormous political pressure to approve the developments.

Commenting on Eller's firing, PEER executive director Jeff Ruch told BushGreenwatch, "When it comes to intimidating its own scientists, the Fish and Wildlife Service is about as subtle as a Mack truck. The Fish and Wildlife Service is signaling that under the Bush administration scientists who won't play ball will be blackballed."

Under government rules, Eller has 30 days to respond to his proposed dismissal. If FWS proceeds with its plans to remove him, he can challenge the action before the Merit Systems Protection Board, the court of the federal civil service.

TAKE ACTION: Sign a petition to support the integrity of science at PEER's website.

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