Jay Slack, Field Supervisor
South Florida Ecological Services Office
US Fish and Wildlife Service
1339 20th St.
Vero Beach, FL 32960
Dear Mr. Slack:
As you know, the Florida panther is one of the most endangered mammals in North America and has languished on the Endangered Species Act (ESA) list for more than 30 years. The primary threat to its survival and recovery has been and continues to be habitat degradation and fragmentation at the hands of developers.
When Congress passed the ESA more than thirty years ago, it recognized the importance of using sound science to guide decisions concerning imperiled species and their habitats. The Act requires the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) to use \"best available science\" when determining whether a proposed project may adversely affect a listed species or habitat essential to its recovery. Furthermore, under the Data Quality Act, the FWS is required to derive its information from \"reliable methods and data sources\" to ensure the quality, objectivity, and integrity of information it disseminates or uses as the basis of agency decisions.
In its July response to the PEER/Eller Data Quality Act challenge, the FWS admitted that some of the information upon which it has relied does have \"limitations\" as identified by the Scientific Review Team. However, rather than taking immediate action to correct the science, the agency intends to wait until 2006, pending the latest revision of the Multi-Species Recovery Plan for South Florida, before addressing these limitations. Meanwhile, the FWS has proposed to terminate Andrew Eller, a 17-year veteran of the agency who has in good faith raised these and other limitations in his role as a panther biologist with the FWS.
This course of action is unacceptable and shows bad faith on the part of the FWS. The Florida panther cannot wait two more years for the agency to use its authority under the ESA to conserve this endangered species and the ecosystem on which it depends.
Eller is not alone in recognizing serious deficiencies in the science and other information FWS uses to manage panthers. Peer-reviewed papers, field reports, court declarations, white papers, and the Scientific Review Team all have raised concerns regarding the quality of science guiding decisions that impact panthers and their habitat.
As scientists, we understand the importance of using reliable science in wildlife conservation. We want to make sure the FWS Vero Beach office understands its duty, and the immediate need to use sound science in its decision-making now and in the future. We also remind your office that its Mission is one of \"conserving, protecting, and enhancing fish, wildlife, and their habitats, in cooperation with partners, for the continuing benefit of the American people from the Lake Wales Ridge to the Florida Keys.\"
We join Eller and PEER in asking that FWS follow Office of Management and Budget (OMB) federal guidelines for the peer review of scientific information in responding to the report of the Scientific Review Team they convened to evaluate panther literature, including:
\"When the agency uses a [peer-review] panel ... the agency must also prepare a written response to the peer review report, indicating whether the agency agrees with the reviewers and what actions the agency has taken or plans to take to address the points made by reviewers.\"
Regarding the scientific studies and rationales upon which FWS relies, PEER/Eller, the Scientific Review Team (SRT), the MERIT Panther Subteam, and others in the panther recovery community raise the following concerns:
* Use of daytime telemetry data to characterize 24-hour panther habitat use, thereby mischaracterizing the nocturnal animal
The Florida Panther Society, Inc.
Mountain Lion Foundation
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USFWS fires Whistleblower Andrew Eller http://www.peer.org/press/533.html PEER\'s Panther Campaign Website http://www.peer.org/FWS/panthercampaign.html FPS Position Letter http://www.panthersociety.org/Eller%20does%20not%20stand%20alone.pdf Letter to Jay Slack (printable format) http://www.panthersociety.org/Jay_Slack_letter.doc Other Groups Working on Scientific Integrity in Environmental Policy: Union of Concerned Scientists: Restore Scientific Integrity http://www.ucsusa.org/global_environment/rsi/page.cfmpageID=1445 ScienceInPolicy.org http://www.scienceinpolicy.org