U.S. Wildlife Scientist Gets New Clues For His Suspension

An arctic scientist who was abruptly suspended from his work at a government agency on July 18 has now received a letter that hints at why he was suspended.

The Department of the Interior's Inspector General Office has informed researcher Charles Monnett that next week, investigators will ask him questions about his actions related to a polar bear study that was recently halted.

Monnett, who works at an agency of the Department of the Interior, is an arctic wildlife researcher who published an influential report in 2006 on apparently drowned polar bears that raised alarms about melting ice and the danger of climate change.

That controversial study seemed to be at the center of an Inspector General investigation that's been going on for months, drawing criticism that a climate change researcher was apparently facing persecution for his scientific work.

But last Friday, a spokesperson with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement, where Monnett works, issued a statement that "the agency placed Mr. Monnett on administrative leave for reasons having nothing to do with scientific integrity, his 2006 journal article, or issues related to permitting, as has been alleged. Any suggestions or speculation to the contrary are wrong."

Now, a letter dated July 29 from the Office of Inspector General says that Monnett will be questioned about his work related to managing a study titled "Populations and Sources of the Recruitment in Polar Bears." Issues to be discussed included his compliance with regulations that govern federal contracts, as well as disclosure of personal relationships and preparation of the scope of work.

This polar bear tracking study was being conducted with the University of Alberta, but a "stop work order" was issued shortly before the government placed Monnett on administrative leave, says Jeff Ruch, executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, which has been providing legal representation for Monnett.

"We're sort of at a loss as to why this kind of Inspector General fishing expedition has entered this inlet," says Ruch.

He says Monnett has only a cordial professional relationship with the primary investigator of the polar bear study in question. And Ruch says all of the scientist's work on managing that polar bear study was approved by his supervisors. "Every aspect of this study was approved by his chain of command, with a fairly transparent paper trail," says Ruch.

The July 29 letter further informed Monnett that the Department of Justice "has declined criminal prosecution" regarding matters that would be discussed in the upcoming interview, scheduled for August 9.

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