- Associated Press - Thursday, July 28, 2011

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) A federal wildlife biologist whose observation that polar bears likely drowned in the Arctic helped galvanize the global warming movement during the past decade was placed on administrative leave while officials investigate scientific misconduct accusations.

While it wasn’t clear what the exact charges are, a government watchdog group representing Anchorage-based scientist Charles Monnett said investigators have focused on his 2006 journal article about the bears that garnered worldwide attention.

The group, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, filed a complaint on Mr. Monnett’s behalf Thursday with the agency, the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement.

BOEMRE told Mr. Monnett on July 18 that he was being put on leave, pending an investigation into “integrity issues.” The investigator has not yet told him of the specific charges or questions related to the scientific integrity of his work, said Jeff Ruch, the watchdog group’s executive director.

A BOEMRE spokeswoman, Melissa Schwartz, acknowledged there was an “ongoing internal investigation” but declined to get into specifics about it.

Whatever the outcome or the nature of the accusations, the investigation could fuel the ongoing fight between environmentalists and those who are skeptical of scientists’ claims about global warming.

Myron Ebell, of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, could not speak directly about the Monnett case but said he believes the public has a right to be skeptical of scientists’ claims about global warming.

Even if every scientist is objective, “what we’re being asked to do is turn our economy around and spend trillions and trillions of dollars on the basis of claims about what’s going to happen to the climate,” he said.

The complaint seeks Mr. Monnett’s reinstatement and a public apology from the agency and inspector general, whose office is conducting the probe. The group’s filing also seeks to have the investigation dropped or to have the charges specified and the matter carried out quickly and fairly.

BOEMRE has barred Mr. Monnett from speaking to reporters, Mr. Ruch said.

Mr. Monnett could not immediately be reached Thursday.

His wife, fellow scientist Lisa Rotterman, who answered the phone at their home, said she feared what happened to him would send a “chilling message” within the agency at a time when important oil and gas development decisions in the Arctic will soon be made.

According to documents provided by Mr. Ruch’s group, which sat in on investigators interviews with Mr. Monnett, the questioning focused on observations that Mr. Monnett and fellow researcher Jeffrey Gleason made in 2004.

At the time, they were conducting an aerial survey of bowhead whales, and saw four dead polar bears floating in the water after a storm. They also added that the findings “suggest that drowning-related deaths of polar bears may increase in the future if the observed trend of regression of pack ice and/or longer open water periods continues.”

They detailed their observations in an article published two years later in the journal Polar Biology.