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For Immediate Release: Mar 30, 2005
Contact: Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337

FLORIDA FWS BIOLOGISTS ORDERED TO APPROVE ALL DEVELOPMENT

Panther Called a “Zoo Species”— Protecting Wild Habitat Futile


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