Alaskan scientist’s suspension angers environment groups, Inupiat

“Industry’s interests [come] before the interests of the Inupiat people”

By NUNATSIAQ NEWS

The suspension of Dr. Charles Monnett, who wrote about the impact of sea ice melt on polar bears, suggesting it could lead to more deaths due to drowning, reveals a lack of respect for science and traditional knowledge, say his supporters. (FILE PHOTO)


The suspension of Dr. Charles Monnett, who wrote about the impact of sea ice melt on polar bears, suggesting it could lead to more deaths due to drowning, reveals a lack of respect for science and traditional knowledge, say his supporters. (FILE PHOTO)

The suspension of a wildlife biologist with an Alaska agency charged with examining offshore oil drilling has raised an outcry from environmental groups and an Inupiat village in Alaska.

They say the forced administrative leave of Dr. Charles Monnett is a political move to discredit climate change supporters and to open the door to oil development in the Chukchi Sea.

His suspension shows that U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement “continues to put industry’s interests before the interests of the Inupiat people,” reads a statement from the Native Village of Point Hope in support of Monnett.

Monnett, who co-ordinates research on Arctic wildlife and ecology for the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement in Alaska, was suspended with pay on July 18, pending an investigation into “integrity issues.”

Among other things, the Interior Inspector General is investigating a 2006 paper by Monnett and a colleague, published in the journal Polar Biology, which reported sightings of four drowned polar bears in open waters following a storm.

This paper speculates that off-shore swimming would become an “important and unaccounted source of natural mortality” as climate change warms the Arctic.

It also suggests that “drowning-related deaths of polar bears may increase in the future if the observed trend of regression of pack ice/ or longer open water periods continues.”

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service cited the paper in its 2008 decision to list the polar bear as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, saying less ice “may result in increases in bear mortality associated with swimming when there is little sea ice to buffer wave action.”

“The investigators are seeking a link to former Vice President Al Gore, who referenced the polar bear paper in his book and movie, “An Inconvenient Truth,”‘ about climate change, maintains a group, called Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, who filed a complaint on Monnett’s behalf.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Interior Department, the parent agency adopted its scientific integrity policies designed to protect scientists from political interference.

The PEER complaint alleges that officials within those agencies are now violating their new policies by meddling in Monnett’s work and suspending him.

The Alaska Wilderness League and Native Village of Point Hope also say the move to suspend Monnett reveals a lack of respect for science and traditional knowledge.

“The Alaska Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement office appears to be continuing its long history of dismissal and outright suppression of science,” the two said in a joint statement. “This needs to stop. It is imperative that BOEMRE [Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement] make decisions based on sound science and traditional knowledge. Our lives are interconnected with the ocean, the marine life, and surrounding lands — without the ocean’s bounty, we have nothing.”

Monnett’s suspension comes at a time when there’s growing disagreement on how — and even whether — to proceed with oil development in the Chukchi Sea.

By placing Monnett on leave, his scientific efforts to address gaps in knowledge are thrown into disarray, his supporters say,

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