At long last, new details have emerged in the quandary over acclaimed polar bear scientist Charles Monnet's mysterious suspension on July 18.
The government wildlife biologist, who managed nearly $50 million worth of climate research on Arctic wildlife and ecology, was placed on leave last month pending an investigation into unspecified "integrity issues."
Many speculated that the probe was tied to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement (BOEMRE) scientist's 2006 paper on polar bear deaths in the Arctic. However, a spokeswoman for BOEMRE insisted last week that Monnett's investigation had "nothing to do with scientific integrity, his 2006 journal article, or issues related to permitting," as had been alleged.
Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), Monnett's legal representatives, have worked tirelessly to keep Monnett's perplexing case in the news. On Tuesday, they released a memorandum that the IG's office issued to the biologist last Friday. It indicates that the investigation centers around the procurement process for a research project on "Populations and Sources of Recruitment in Polar Bears."
The memo to Monnett requests an August 9 meeting to discuss "compliance with Federal Acquisition Regulations, disclosure of personal relationships, and preparation of the scope of work." It also states that the matter under investigation was referred to the Department of Justice, but that the agency "declined criminal prosecution."
The University of Alberta in Canada is the lead organization on the study now in question, however BOEMRE provided a great deal of the funding. According to a memorandum issued on July 13, BOEMRE ordered the university to "cease and desist" all work on the study five days before Monnett's suspension.
This study, however, has been extraordinarily successful, producing invaluable data that will be used by polar bear managers for many years to come. Its abrupt termination came despite the fact that -
-A number of polar bears are still roaming the rapidly decaying summer ice pack transmitting data on their location and status;
-The Canadians provided approximately $800,000 towards the cost of the $2,000,000 study; and
-The study provided a chance to track bears beyond political boundaries and in so doing found a dramatic expansion of polar bears' home ranges as they cope with diminished sea ice.
Monnett's work with in the arctic was featured in Al Gore's Oscar-winning climate change documentary "An Inconvenient Truth." His 2006 article on polar bears, previously thought to be in question, greatly heightened public concern for the arctic animal.
Campaigners focused on the bears to push erstwhile President George W. Bush to act on climate change.
Finally, in May 2008, polar bears became the first species to be classified by the U.S. as threatened due to global warming
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