PRESS RELEASE

AGENCY ADMITS PANTHER WHISTLEBLOWER WAS RIGHT

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Washington, DC — The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) today formally
conceded that it has been using flawed science in assessing the habitat and population
of the endangered Florida panther, according to a letter from outgoing Director
Steve Williams. The agency announcement came in a decision to uphold a legal complaint
filed jointly by one of the agency’s own biologists and Public Employees
for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) that studies relied upon by FWS in approving
proposed development in Southwest Florida inflate panther population and inaccurately
minimize habitat needs.

Andrew Eller, Jr., an 18-year USFWS biologist, in the Florida panther recovery
program who filed the complaint with PEER, was fired by FWS the week after the
November election. PEER is contesting Eller’s termination; that case is
slated for hearing in April.

The PEER/Eller complaint contends that FWS engaged in scientific fraud by —

  • Equating daytime habitat use patterns (when the panther is at rest) with
    nighttime habitat use patterns (when the panther is most active);
  • Assuming that all known panthers are breeding adults, discounting juvenile,
    aged and ill animals; and
  • Using population estimates, reproductive rates, and kitten survival rates
    not supported by field data.

“While we are gratified by this decision we are mystified why the U.S.
Fish & Wildlife Service insists on firing the biologist who risked his career
to expose this scientific fraud,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff
Ruch, noting that the Service embraced flawed science in order to sign off on
mega-developments planned in the Western Everglades on the basis that the projects
would have no adverse effects on the panther. “We are concerned that the
Fish and Wildlife Service has charged the very officials who perpetuated the
fraud with correcting it.”

The Florida panther complaint was filed under the Data Quality Act which requires
each federal agency to ensure and maximize “the quality, objectivity and
integrity of information” it disseminates to the public and uses in its
decision-making. FWS has now pledged to remove certain studies and put disclaimers
on others but will not complete the corrections that it says are needed for
several months.

“The Fish & Wildlife Service currently is reviewing 30 very large
projects slated for construction right in the middle of prime panther habitat,”
Ruch added. “The delayed effective date for promised corrections may allow
the agency to continue to approve projects on the basis of admittedly flawed
science.”

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Read
the U.S. Fish & Wildlife letter upholding the PEER/Eller Data Quality Act
complaint

See
the PEER/Eller complaint on panther science

Look
at unfolding developments in the controversy