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Polar bear researcher  Dr. Charles Monnett continues to be silenced and suspended from his job of managing Arctic biology research for the Department of Interior as the DOI's Inspector General investigates him on charges he could not have possibly committed.  BOEMRE, the zombie name for the disgraced, corrupt Minerals Management Service (MMS) of the Department of Interior, which was literally caught in bed with the oil industry, has restarted the suspended polar bear research. However the DOI's criminal investigators continue to "investigate" the pioneering research report on dead polar bears even though they said it was not the issue. Now Senator James Inhofe, oil company stooge and lead shaman in the Republican war on science, has joined the witch hunt. And Shell has been authorized to begin exploratory drilling, despite the oil industry's lack of workable plans for dealing with a blowout in the Arctic ocean.

Although the director of BOEMRE, Michael Bromwich, has stated that the investigation has "nothing to do with [Monnett's] scientific work, or anything relating to a 5-year-old journal article, as advocacy groups and the news media have incorrectly speculated," yesterday's 3-hour session focused exactly on those issues, says Jeff Ruch, the director of the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility in Washington, D.C., who monitored the interview via teleconferencing. And Ruch isn't the only one apparently who thinks that the investigation is indeed linked to the article and its conclusion that polar bears may experience higher death rates due to climate change: U.S. Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) has now entered the fray, sending a letter to BOEMRE, asking for more information about the Monnett inquiry .

Inhofe, unaware of the irony of his words, wrote of the far reaching consequences of the (false) accusations. Climate change doesn't just threaten polar bears. Silencing the messenger didn't stop the Arctic sea ice from declining to record low levels for the end of July this summer. Drilling for oil in the stormy, icy Arctic could have disastrous consequences.

In his letter, Inhofe, the ranking member of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, said that witnesses had cited Monnett's work and article to his committee. The study, he stated, provided "the foundation" for the decision to list the polar bear as a threatened species, the first whose survival is considered to be at risk because of global warming. "As a result, Critical Habitat for the polar bear was designated, which added additional layers of onerous regulations to oil and gas development in 187,000 square miles of land in Alaska," he wrote, adding that accusations against Monnett's work "could be serious and have far reaching consequences."

But a spokesperson for the Center of Biological Diversity's Climate Law Institute, one of the agencies that supported the polar bear's listing, says that Monnett's paper was only one of hundreds cited. The center and Greenpeace have written to Interior Secretary Kenneth Salazar and President Barack Obama's chief science adviser, John Holdren, seeking an explanation of Monnett's suspension.

The accusations against Dr. Monnett are categorically false. The investigation is devoid of merit. The observations in the report questioned by investigators have been confirmed by many subsequent studies including a recent report of a female polar bear swimming a record 426 miles and losing her cub to drowning because there was no ice to rest on.

The cub of the record-setting bear, for instance, died at some point between starting the swim and when the researchers next observed the mother on land. She also lost 22 percent of her body weight.

"We're pretty sure that these animals didn't have to do these long swims before, because 687-kilometer stretches of open water didn't occur very often in the evolutionary history of the polar bear," said study co-author Steven Amstrup, chief scientist for the conservation group Polar Bears International. Amstrup is also the former project leader of polar bear research for the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), which led the new study.

This recent report backs up Dr Monnett's report which said:PDF

To our knowledge, we report here the first observations of polar bears floating dead offshore and presumed drowned while making apparent long-distance movements in open water. Polar bears are considered strong swimmers, but they have rarely been observed swimming far from ice or land. Øritsland (1969) observed a polar bear in open water estimated to be 160 km from land, and Burns et al. (1981) commented that the eventual fate of this bear was unknown.

Ferguson et al. (2000) documented only 0.04% (3 of 6,943) of polar bear telemetry observations were classified as occurring in ‘‘open water’’. Our observations suggest that polar bears swimming in open water near Kaktovik drowned during a period of high winds and correspondingly rough sea conditions between 10 and 13 September 2004.

Once the incompetence of the criminal investigators who interviewed Dr Monnett was exposed (they couldn't do fifth grade math) they shifted gears and claimed that they were investigating him for contracting fraud. However, the time line shows that the suggested improprieties were impossible. BOEMRE implied that Dr. Monnett may have improperly directed research funds to the joint US-Canadian polar bear study in return for a favorable review of his paper or some other favor, but the international agreement was already signed before he published his observations. Moreover, the project was established under a sole source contract because Canada was contributing a large amount of money to the study. A long list of government contract specialists and middle managers had to review and sign off on the international agreement. When I set up an international agreement for a study in Australia, ( I held a similar research project management job at another federal agency) we even had to get concurrence from the state department. Because the research project manager never handles any money and because the both the U.S. government and the Canadian government approve of every dollar that's spent, there's no way the project manager can benefit financially from this kind of contract.

PEER, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, the organization defending Dr. Monnett released this statement for the press on August 9 concerning the ongoing outrage at the DOI.

POLAR BEAR PAPER REMAINS FOCUS OF IG PROBE OF ARCTIC SCIENTIST — IG Refuses to Identify Criminal Charge Rejected by Justice Department

Washington, DC —Today’s interview between the Interior Department Office of Inspector General (IG) and a suspended Arctic scientist reveals that his 2006 peer-reviewed journal article on drowned polar bears remains the focus of the inquiry, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).   A new allegation surfaced that one of Interior’s top Arctic scientists, Dr. Charles Monnett, improperly steered a polar bear study to the University of Alberta, even though his agency had already approved it as a sole source contract.

The multi-month IG investigation is still ongoing but today’s interview with Dr. Monnett showed –

    • The IG is still focused on the scientific merit of a seven-page note authored by Dr. Monnett and a colleague published in the peer-reviewed journal Polar Biology in 2006 which reported sightings of drowned polar bears in open waters following a storm;

    • The IG had questions about Dr. Monnett’s role during procurement of a research study titled “Populations and Sources of Recruitment in Polar Bears” conducted by the Canadian University of Alberta but Dr. Monnett acted under the direction of agency contracting and procurement staff.  When pressed, the IG refused to answer how these transactions justified an unsuccessful referral to the Justice Department for prosecution; and

    • The IG took credit for prompting  the Bureau of Ocean Energy, Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEM, the Interior unit where Dr. Monnett works) to issue a stop work order on the University of Alberta study but that stop work order was rescinded by the agency two weeks later and the study is ongoing.

“With each interview, it becomes more outrageous that government funds are being spent on this crackpot probe while paying Dr. Monnett’s salary to sit at home,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, whose organization is providing legal representation to Dr. Monnett. “The Canadian study is a prime example of cost effective science in the public interest.  It was sole source to the Canadians because the Canadians were paying half the cost and were already doing much of the research.”

Greenpeace and the Center for Biological Diversity have demanded a government review of this political interference into scientific research.
PDF

Dear Secretary Salazar and Dr. Holdren,

The protection of scientific independence and integrity is crucial to the creation of sound national policy, especially with respect to environmental and natural resource issues. We therefore fully support the spirit and letter of the President’s Executive Order regarding scientific integrity, and it is with this memorandum in mind that we write you about the recent suspension of a senior scientist at the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement, Dr. Charles Monnett. Dr. Monnett is responsible for undertaking and coordinating a broad slate of research into the distribution of marine mammals, including polar bears. This crucial long-term research has been approved by MMS/BOEMRE in part to produce baseline data against which to judge the potential impacts of proposed oil drilling in the waters off Alaska.

Prior to being placed on administrative leave, Dr. Monnett was subjected to an interrogation by criminal investigators from the Department of Interior Inspector General (IG) relating to his observations of drowned polar bears and the publication of those observations in a peer-reviewed scientific journal. Based on the transcript of that interview, it appears that Dr. Monnett is himself being subjected to precisely the type of political interference in his work that the Executive Order and scientific integrity policy are designed to prevent. This apparent interference is originating not only from the IG, which has sent agents with no scientific training to ask decidedly unscientific questions about bizarre allegations relating to the polar bear paper,
but also, as it emerged during the interview, from BOEMRE managers themselves.

Following clear evidence of misconduct within the BOEMRE’s predecessor agency, the Minerals Management Service, it was hoped that this reorganized agency, under Michael Bromwich’s leadership, would reform its working practices and usher in a new era of respect for independent scientific research. However, this incident indicates that the agency remains rife with problems and seems determined to restrict scientists from engaging in or disseminating research that provides critical information on the potential impacts of oil drilling in a rapidly changing Arctic. This makes us question whether Mr. Bromwich, the agency and more broadly the Department of Interior are able to uphold the tenets of the Presidential Executive Order on scientific integrity or indeed the DOI’s own Science Integrity Policy, issued in September 2010.

We are gravely concerned by the allegations of political interference with Dr. Monnett’s work and other scientific research at BOEMRE, as well as by the conduct of the investigation against Dr. Monnett. This incident will chill other agency scientists’ ability to carry out and communicate their research. We thus request your assurance that these critically important issues will receive an immediate, full, and open review by both the Department of Interior and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. We look forward to your response and thoughts on this matter.

Originally posted to DK GreenRoots on Thu Aug 11, 2011 at 07:12 PM PDT.

Also republished by SciTech and Ocean Advocates.

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