Thursday, February 02, 2006

Nothing Succeeds Like Failure

Jay Slack, the Field Supervisor of the FWS South Florida Ecological Service Field Office, has just gotten a promotion from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

Slack relied on faulty data to greenlight development projects in the West Everglades, home to the endangered Florida panther. This is one of the rarest mammals on earth; only about 75 of them are left.

As some readers may recall, a whistleblower named Andrew Eller filed a complaint about the quality of these data; he claimed that FWS was knowingly relying on faulty studies to overstate the panther population, and understate its habitat needs. Some of the data, in fact, came from a scientist who later worked as a consultant for would-be developers of panther habitat; among other things, it assumed that all panthers were breeding adults, and that there was no difference between panther behavior at night and in the daytime.

A federal judge later found that the data attacked by Eller were indeed flawed. On that basis, he revoked the permit for a limestone quarry that would've excavated 6,000 acres of panther habitat, and described the FWS's support of the project as "arbitrary and capricious." Despite this vindication, the FWS fired Eller. (Eight months later, they re-hired him, but reassigned him to Kentucky.)

The quarry was a project of Florida Rock Industry, which has a history of attempting to mine in protected wilderness areas. Not surprisingly, its CEO was a contributer to the Bush campaign, and has also donated to Bill McCollum, a rabid anti-environment and anti-accountability crusader who was mercifully defeated by Bill Nelson in 2000.

A 2005 study of FWS offices under Slack, undertaken by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility and the Union of Concerned Scientists, found that Eller's experience was anything but isolated:

Nearly two-thirds (63%) of respondents citing cases where “commercial interests have inappropriately induced the reversal or withdrawal of scientific conclusions or decisions through political intervention;”

Nearly two-thirds (64%) of respondents whose work is related to endangered species scientific findings admitting that they have been “directed, for non-scientific reasons, to refrain from making findings that are protective of species;” and

More than one-fourth (28%) reported having been “directed to inappropriately exclude or alter technical information from” agency scientific documents.
Jeff Ruch of PEER says, “The elevation of Jay Slack is a case study of how basic accountability mechanisms are perverted in the Interior Department.” Actually, it's a case study of how basic accountability mechanisms are perverted in the Bush Administration, where misusing statistics, ignoring facts, and punishing competence comprise a foolproof recipe for success.


Anonymous said...

As an employee of Florida Rock Industries, I can tell you their management has the same regard for the well being of their own workers.

Phila said...

Yikes! My condolences.