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.”