PRESS RELEASE

FLORIDA FWS BIOLOGISTS ORDERED TO APPROVE ALL DEVELOPMENT

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Washington, DC — The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service orders its biologists
to approve all development projects in south Florida regardless of the consequences
to wildlife, according to a letter by 20 current and former agency scientists
released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The
biologists also write that a key supervisor in the FWS Vero Beach office called
the Florida panther a “zoo species” and forbade scientific staff from
raising concerns about threatened or endangered species.

The letter from 20 former co-workers of Andrew Eller, the FWS panther biologist
who was fired one week after the November 2004 election, maintains that —

  • A key FWS supervisor “refers to the panther as a ‘zoo species’”
    that has no hope of recovery in the wild;
  • Biologists were forbidden from issuing an objection (called a “jeopardy
    letter”) about the effects development projects would have on the Florida
    panther or any of the “68 federally listed species in south Florida”;
    and
  • FWS targeted Andrew Eller for “refusing to incorporate non-factual
    information into biological opinions.”

Last week, the outgoing FWS Director, Steve Williams, upheld a challenge filed
by Eller and PEER that the agency’s panther science was grossly slanted
toward developers. Despite finding that Eller is correct on the science, FWS
has not reversed his termination. The legality of Eller’s termination
will be heard before a federal judge in April. The letter is one of many exhibits
submitted by PEER to establish that FWS improperly retaliated against Eller
for blowing the whistle on its scientific fraud.

“In the upcoming hearing, we will determine why the biologist who revealed
scientific fraud was really fired and why the agency relies on the word of officials
who perpetuated the fraud,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch,
whose organization is providing legal representation for Eller. “Those
who worked with Andy Eller say, without a doubt, that he is a highly dedicated
and competent scientist.”

The letter by Eller’s colleagues is not signed but contains the following
explanation:

“We feel a need to voice our collective concerns anonymously over this
atrocity [Eller’s firing] and others we witness within the Service for
fear of similar retribution. In short, we feel that it is not safe to speak
out individually…The atmosphere where government employees are afraid
to use science, question management, and do their jobs must end.”

Last month, PEER and the Union of Concerned Scientists released a survey of
FWS scientists from across the nation that found high levels of political manipulation
of agency science. In that survey, FWS scientists based in Florida reported
some of the highest levels of political interference.

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Read
the letter from twenty of Andrew Eller’s co-workers

See
the results of the PEER/UCS survey of FWS scientists in Florida

Find
out more about scientific fraud on the Florida panther and in the U.S. Fish
& Wildlife Service