The scientist who galvanized the international polar bear conservation movement with reports of drowned bears is back in his old job with the Department of the Interior (DOI) after a two-year investigation into charges of data falsification.
Arctic wildlife biologist Charles Monnett made waves in the environmental movement when he and fellow DOI employee Jeffrey Gleason published a 2006 paper in the journal Polar Biology. It stated that alarming numbers of polar bears are drowning due to melting sea ice caused by global warming.
Al Gore reported Monnett’s research in his 2006 documentary An Inconvenient Truth. During the film computer animation shows a polar bear struggling to climb onto a small, solitary ice floe that breaks under its weight. Gore bemoans, “A new scientific study shows that for the first time they’re finding polar bears that have actually drowned swimming long distances — up to sixty miles — to find the ice.” (Incidentally, the U.S. Geological Survey reports these hardy creatures are capable of swimming extremely long distances, some in excess of 200 miles. It says the data suggest “they do not stop to rest during their journey.”)
In 2010, an anonymous co-worker charged Monnett with several counts of wrongdoing, including intentional omission or use of false data in his polar bear research. The complainant said Monnett intended to fraudulently influence the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (FWS) decision to list the polar bear under the Endangered Species Act. He also accused Monnett of illegally releasing confidential government e-mails to anti-oil activists.
These allegations launched a two-year DOI investigation, during which time Monnett’s employing agency, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), suspended him with pay for six weeks and then reassigned him to an analyst position. Last month, DOI published its findings.