Washington, DC — The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has decided to terminate the biologist who publicly challenged its reliance on flawed studies about the habitat and population of the endangered Florida panther, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The agency’s action comes ten weeks after a federal court found the agency guilty of scientific fraud on the same grounds raised by the now-former employee.
Andrew Eller, Jr., an 18-year FWS biologist, had spent the past ten years working in the Florida panther recovery program. This spring, he filed formal charges that studies relied upon by the Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) to make decisions about proposed development in Southwest Florida inflate panther population and inaccurately minimize habitat needs. One week after that filing, the agency proposed his termination. On Friday, November 5th, FWS finalized its termination of Eller.
“This case is about whether scientific dissent will be tolerated under the Bush Administration,” stated PEER General Counsel Richard Condit who will be leading Eller’s legal challenge of his firing. “A federal court found the agency knowingly used junk science to okay projects, but the official committing the fraud gets a commendation while the one who exposed it is fired.”
Contending that its actions were motivated solely by the timeliness of Eller’s work, FWS officials did not reply to Eller’s affidavit citing evidence of retaliation, including —
- Threats by supervisors for voicing biological concerns about the effects of development projects in panther habitat;
- Orders to delete “jeopardy” findings from biological opinions; and
- Ignoring scientific flaws that Eller raised, including unrealistic assumptions about panther reproduction rates and kitten survival.
Many of the assignments cited by FWS involve the controversies surrounding the science on the endangered panther and other threatened species in one of the fastest growing areas of the country, known as the Western Everglades. Considered among the most endangered mammals on the planet, there are only an estimated 87 of these big cats left in existence.
PEER and Eller have 30 days to appeal the termination to the federal civil service court called the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB). MSPB can also immediately restore Eller pending final resolution of the matter. In the meantime, FWS has yet to act on Eller’s charges of scientific fraud against it. A three-member review committee empanelled by FWS is slated to make findings later this fall.