Biologist Rehired by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

By Manuel Roig-Franzia
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 6, 2005; A15

MIAMI, July 5 -- Andy Eller, a fired federal biologist who became a hero -- and, for a time, a martyr -- of the environmental movement, is expecting to hear within the next week or so where his new government posting will be.

Eller is waiting for the news in a North Carolina mountain cabin, his refuge during a protracted clash with his bosses at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that raised questions about the agency's scientific integrity.

His vindication was sealed June 29 when the agency agreed to reinstate him -- nearly eight months after firing him -- on the eve of a hearing by the Merit Systems Protection Board on the challenge of his dismissal.

By then, Eller's life was coming apart. He had no job, little money and bleak prospects. He had given up his apartment in Vero Beach, Fla., where his battles over protection of the endangered Florida panther reached an apex, and accepted a rent-free caretaker's job in North Carolina.

The terms of the settlement, which was offered by the government, have not been disclosed because of a confidentiality agreement. But Jeff Ruch, executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, the Washington-based group that represented Eller, called the deal "a message that there's hope" for government whistle-blowers.

Eller was at war with his superiors for years over his accusations that the agency purposely relied on flawed scientific findings to give influential developers construction permits in the increasingly crowded stretches of southwestern Florida favored by the Florida panther. He was fired in November after 18 years with the agency. His supervisors said he was dismissed because he was slow completing projects; Eller accused the agency of trying to silence him.

Since then, Fish and Wildlife has admitted that some of Eller's criticisms were correct, after reviewing the fired biologist's Data Quality Act complaints about the agency's incorrect assertions that the wide-ranging panther could survive on small tracts of undeveloped land.

Eller has requested that his new job have nothing to do with permitting, Ruch said, which would push him away from the developers he battled and deeper into a quiet place he likes much better: the woods.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company