Top of the news in The New York Times and across the nation is the Interior Department Inspector General’s investigation of Dr. Charles Monnett and his suspension. Dr. Monnett is the Interior Department scientist who reported spotting a drowned female polar bear and two cubs offshore of Alaska and then broadcasted a ridiculous extrapolation that 27 bears must have drowned in a storm. He was a flyover observer on an unrelated periodic whale survey. He did not stop to actually examine the bears, was only speculating as to the cause of their death, and his extrapolation that 27 bears in total may have drowned did not include the fact that no other presumed drowned bears were observed by him or anyone, that the cubs would have drowned because their mother drowned, or that they were relatively close to shore, etc. Accidental deaths are not extrapolated that way.
His observation and questionable extrapolation was one of the pillars behind the polar bear listing determination. It was cited by the US Fish & Wildlife Service (USF&WS) in its proposal and listing and regularly quoted by the Center for Biological Diversity and many others with an agenda. Al Gore cited it in his 2006 book about global warming as proof that polar bear had been drowning in significant numbers while swimming between the increasing distances between ice habitats during the early summer without saying it was only early summer.
Here at Conservation Force we have our own take on this, as we have watched it evolve from the inception. Bear do drown in horrific sea storms and always have. It should be noted that they don’t sink and are excellent swimmers. The distance the presumed mother and two cubs had to swim in this instance is of absolutely no consequence to polar bear, and the distance to the closest shore was negligible.
The fact that there was a horrific, uncommon storm was not ever included or acknowledged in the USF&WS listing decision. The extrapolation that 27 bears must have drowned and the reliance upon that to bootstrap the listing and Al Gore’s book on global warming was scientifically indefensible. It is not simply “shoddy science” as reported in The New York Times. It reeks of bias and its acceptance in the listing process more than suggests that a global warming-related agenda, not the polar bear’s current and future status, was of primary interest. It should have been rejected as not meaningful from the outset.
This is one of the issues that Conservation Force, and Conservation Force alone, raised in its comments and litigation challenging the listing. Though the District Court deferred to the expertise of the Agency as a judicial policy to refrain from second guessing Agency decisions, this was a too often cited pillar of the listing decision that should have been suspect from the inception. Why and how could the Agency unconditionally cite the misinformation in support of its listing decision? The fact that the initial report was later published in a peer-reviewed journal demonstrates the politics hiding behind the cloak of science.