Wildlife service admits errors

But the government sticks by its firing of the whistleblower in the panther case.

The Associated Press

March 22, 2005

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Monday admitted using flawed scientific data on the Florida panther to approve construction projects in panther habitat, conceding the merits of a complaint by a whistleblower who was fired last year.

The agency announced it would revise documents that understated the panther's habitat and painted an over-optimistic picture of its prospects, after an internal review found these documents included errors and discredited science. But the agency said it had already been moving to correct these mistakes before the complaint was filed.

"The law requires us to use the best science available, and information available to us continuously evolves," said Sam Hamilton, the agency's southeastern regional director, in a statement. "As we learn more about panther ecology, we improve the body of knowledge."

The review came after an agency biologist, Andrew Eller, filed a petition last May under the federal Data Quality Act accusing the agency of knowingly using flawed data to rubber-stamp eight construction projects in panther habitat.

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, a nonprofit group that represents government workers, including Eller, said the announcement didn't go far enough.

"While we are gratified by this decision, we are mystified why the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service insists on firing the biologist who risked his career to expose this scientific fraud," wrote the group's executive director, Jeff Ruch.

Since he was fired last November, Eller has become a hero to environmentalists who saw him as a symbol of scientific integrity in an administration that twisted the facts to suit its ideology. He received an ovation at the January meeting of the Everglades Coalition.

But Fish and Wildlife Service officials said Eller was fired for completing work late and engaging in unprofessional exchanges with the public.

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