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Dead Polar Bears Tell No Tales - Sierra Daily

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Sierra Daily

Oct 27, 2011

Dead Polar Bears Tell No Tales

Polar bearYou may recall some years ago a spate of news stories about drowned polar bears being spotted in the Arctic waters. These stories stemmed from observations made in 2004 by federal wildlife biologist Charles Monnett and colleagues, who spotted the dead bears in the course of observing the migration of bowhead whales. They recorded their sightings and subsequently published a short, peer-reviewed article in 2006 in the journal Polar Biology. Monnett and the others speculated that absence of pack ice was the cause, and that "drowning-related deaths of polar bears may increase in the future" if climate change continues to warm Arctic waters.

The paper, with its alarming and vivid focus, was featured in Al Gore's documentary, An Inconvenient Turth. Thus began an investigation of Dr. Monnett that continues to this day by the Interior Department's Javert-like Office of Inspector General. As the months go by, the focus drifts--once toward Monnett's role in contracting for a Canadian study of polar-bear movement, more recently toward a misplaced routing slip on an internal agency poster--but always returning to the merits of the Polar Biology article. But as reported by Public Employees for Environmental Ethics, a watchdog group providing legal representation to Monnett, the latest IG interview yesterday revealed that IG was aware of two additional polar bear carcasses that had been seen floating in the same waters Monnett observed--a detail that would seem to buttress his case, not undermine it.

"At this point, the IG agents appear to be desperately grasping at straws to justify this 18-month fiasco of a probe,” says PEER executive director Jeff Ruch.

The Interior Department unit Monnett works for is the Bureau of Ocean Energy, Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE, pronounced "bummer"). You may remember it as the unit formerly known as the Minerals Management Service that had to be completely reorganized after its staff was found to have partied and occasionally slept with oil company representatives with whom they were doing business. (See "Sex, Drugs, and Royalties," January/February 2009.) As Monnett told investigators, "We work for an agency that is, especially then, extremely hostile to the concept of climate change, that's hostile to the idea that there was any effects of anything we do on anything." Even under new management and a new name, BOEMRE's fossil-fuel bias seems to have survived intact.

--Paul Rauber

Image by iStock


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