BIOLOGIST FIRED FOR SPEAKING OUT ABOUT ENDANGERED PANTHERS-Andrew Stelzer

11/12/04

This week, the US fish and Wildlife service announced they were delaying adoption a plan designed to protect the endangered Florida panther from encroaching development. At the heart of the decision is an employee who spoke up about what he calls bad science—that man, Andrew Eller, was fired last week in what he says was retaliation for his trying to do his job and protect the panthers.

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ACT “As a biologist for the fish and wildlife service, and in December on 2002, I was told to include information, one was a statement saying there was a surplus if panthers, the other was about panther habitat, it would leave you to believe that panther development was greater than it is. They didn’t specify how I would be disciplined, and the situation deteriorated, and afterwards I decided to file the data actually challenging the information they used.�

Eller filed a data quality act complaint against the fish and wildlife service, alleging that they were using bad data to allow development. He says his firing was retaliation for that complaint, as fish and wildlife refuses to acknowledge its accuracy even though Several weeks ago, a federal court found that the Fish and Wildlife agency was indeed guilty of scientific fraud on the same grounds raised by Eller. Jeff Rook is exec director for public employees for environmental responsibility, or PEER. His group is helping Eller prepare an appeal of his firing.

ACT “The government claims he inefficient—he counters by saying he’s no more tardy, he’s exposing fraud in the science in the habitat.�

The Florida panther has been listed as an endangered species since 1966. In 1995 there were only 27 panthers in Florida, and a breeding program was started, and the population of panthers has almost tripled to about 87 panthers today. But Eller says that progress could easily be reversed.

ACT “Were still losing habitat faster than it can be protected, a lot of people don’t know, half of the land occupied is unprotected..we would lose cats.�

Rook says the federal governments statements regarding the panthers use selective data.

ACT-rook “They were assuming that all known panthers were of reproductive age, they were assuming that all kittens survive, daytime travel patterns, like tracing our movements based on us when were asleep.�

Eller has worked in the panther recovery program for the last 10 years, he’s been a biologist with the fish and wildlife service for 18 years. But he says the climate has changed in his office since George W Bush came into office 4 years ago.

ACT ‘In 2001, the field office supervisor told us we would not be writing jeopardy opinions, that’s against the endangered species act, it seemed like the information I brought to the table, after 2 or 3 years, I decided it was time to do something.�

The Bush administration has been accused by hundreds of scientists of not cracking down on polluting corporations which are contributing to global warming, and undertaking exploration of rare natural lands to benefit energy companies, but Jeff Rook from PEER says in this case its the typical Florida scenario of developers being favored over the environment.

ACT “There’s tremendous development pressure from developments, and its been clear to scientists they will be fired.

Eller says that he feels most of his co-workers at the Vero Beach field office support him and will submit written testimony or testify on his behalf; he says most people who are working in the government want to protect the environment, but a few high level appointees, including secretary of the interior gale Norton, have an agenda they force on department employees.

ACT ‘And the way they do it is by threat or intimidation, also through discouraging written communication, so they can carry the threat further, so there’s no documentation, so if there is dissent, they can say you are insubordinate, there no debate or discussion under other administration

Fish and wildlife officials are not commenting on the firing, as it is still in the appeals process.

ACT ‘A lot of people think that my being fired is a symbol to other scientists, and if the service prevails it may have a dampen spirits.�

Rook agrees

ACT ‘This isn’t unique to the bush admin, altering, suppressions; this is an incident where they’ve taken of to eliminated someone because he not towing the company line.. “This case has become the test case for whether or not government scientist can be fired for being inconviently right.�

But Rook says even if Eller wins his job back, the Florida panther will likely suffer.

ACT ‘They still wont change the document even though they lost a court case, and they still wont change the document, even tough a review team told them its flawed, they re just doing business as usual, experts say its flawed.�

The appeal will be filed next week, which may result in a stay allowing Eller to return to work; a hearing will likely be scheduled within the next 90 days.

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