Well, I have been fired for posting to the Internet a single web page
with some maps showing the distribution of caribou calving areas in the
Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).
My entire website http://www.mbr-pwrc.usgs.gov/geotech/
has now been removed from the Internet. This represents about 3 years
worth of work and 20,000 plus maps showing bird, mammal and amphibian
distributions, satellite imagery, landcover and vegetation maps for
countries and protected areas all around of the globe. As far as I aware
it was one of the biggest collections of maps online and certainly the
biggest collection showing maps of biodiversity and the environment. The
website was often visited by over a thousand visitors each week. In
addition, I was fulfilling roughly a dozen requests for geospatial data
and information from colleagues, other researchers and the general public
All of this comes as a rather big surprise to me. I was given no chance
to remove the webpage or even finish writing an appeal before my position
was terminated. I was working under a contract so I believe I have very
little legal recourse. I have received no written explanation (or even an
email) stating the exact reasons for the termination decision and I
understand that even though this would be a reasonable courtesy to expect,
it is unlikely to be forthcoming.
From my viewpoint my dismissal was a high-level political decision to
set an example to other Federal scientists. I base this belief on the
following information I received from a colleague in Alaska who is a
leading researcher on the issues involved:
"I really hope you don't get fired. In fact, had the timing of
what you did not been so inappropriate based on everything else that was
going on, I doubt that anyone would have noticed. Your work showed a lot
"...the fallout would not have been so great had the subject
matter not been one of the three USDOI super hot topics with the new
administration and had we not been briefing the Secretary at the nearly
exact time your website went up. Everyone is nervous and as I mentioned
earlier, consistency in presentation is paramount."
So now, I believe my only recourse is to appeal to the general public
in the hope that in the future what just happened to me will not happen to
I would recommend anybody in a similar circumstance to contact the fine
people at Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (http://www.peer.org)
or a similar organization.
The response and support I have received from friends online has been
truly amazing. I very much appreciate how quickly people have acted on my
behalf and helped publicize my plight and I especially wish to thank the
international mapping community...receiving letters of support from far
away places cheers me up no end. Please feel free to forward this email to
other lists and media contacts! I would also be grateful if anybody who
misses all the maps I put on the internet please contact the USGS to let
them know and to ask that the maps be reposted.
I feel very bad that these events are also affecting my colleagues at
Patuxent. Patuxent was a great place to work, has amazing researchers and
everybody I worked with is very supportive.
Many, many thanks for your support,
Nobody instructed/authorized me to post the web pages on Arctic
National Wildlife Refuge. It was done on my own initiative. I was working
on land cover maps for all National Wildlife Refuges using the new
National Landcover Datasets. Last week I published over 1000 land cover
maps online covering every National Wildlife Refuge and National Park in
the lower 48. (These maps have now been removed from the Internet too).
Similar land cover data for Alaska were not available but the Arctic
National Wildlife Refuge had a good landcover map so I included it.
In the past, I helped produce the only set of maps online showing all
bird species distributions in Alaska. In addition I have produced online
mammal distribution atlases of Africa, maps for tigers in Asia and I was
working on digitizing North American mammal range maps produced by the
I have also been conducting background research to prepare proposals to
study the effects of mineral extraction on biodiversity and protected
areas on a very large scale. One such proposal that I was preparing would
have looked at exporting analysis and mapping methods applied in the
United States to other regions of the World such as Africa. The proposal
was co-sponsored by the Mineral Division of USGS and the World Resources
The migration of caribou in North America is the closest thing that we
have to the great mammal migrations that occur in Africa. African
protected areas are also under great pressure from possible development
for mineral extraction. So the caribou distributions that I found on the
Fish and Wildlife Service public website were of particular interest. I
have also worked for several years on maps of migratory bird distribution
patterns. I therefore have a great interest in other migratory animals as
many of the temporal mapping problems are similar.
I was completely unaware that there was anything wrong with publishing
ANWR maps. I have never been informed of any agency restrictions or any
other guidelines on publishing maps depicting ANWR... I only now have been
informed that there is a two-week-old agency "communications
directive" that limits who is allowed to distribute new information
on ANWR within my agency.
I thought that I was helping further public and scientific
understanding and debate of the issues at ANWR by making some clearer
maps. I also hoped that colleagues in USGS would see the maps and then
contact me if they needed additional mapping help. I was careful to quote
my sources and explain what I had done. I made no statement about what the
maps might mean with regard to oil development of the refuge.
The web pages were put up on Wednesday, March 7, last week. The first
thing I did when I put the ANWR pages up on the internet was to inform
other USGS Biological Resources Division mapping people and other agency
(Fish Wildlife Service and National Park Service respectively) GIS people
through email that they were on the web. Informing other Federal
colleagues and agencies immediately upon publication to the web appears to
me to be the only reasonable review process available, seeing as there is
no internal review website currently available...I have never been
informed of any other established procedure for review of web content on
our site. I actually haven't had any complaints about or requests to
change any other map on my website...
I assumed that if anybody had a problem they could contact me directly
and quickly and appropriate steps could be taken almost immediately. I
received one warning from a colleague that the maps I put on the Internet
should be removed. Unfortunately, it was sent on Saturday so I did not
receive it in time. I think the decision to terminate me was taken before
I even got to work on Monday.
I also assumed that because all I was doing was essentially presenting
existing public information in a clearer and improved format, there was
very little need for any extensive review other than the steps I took.
Indeed the changes that I made to the original Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS)
web maps were simply to digitize them ("trace"), then overlay
them on satellite and vegetation maps and then summarize how may years
specific areas were a high density caribou calving area. I found a similar
(poor quality) summary map on the FWS website that allowed me to check the
accuracy of my simple analysis.
I was unaware that FWS had updated the data. There is no mention of
updated information on the FWS website. This new data has still to be made
public. If my maps were inaccurate in any way so are the public FWS maps I
copied.... (please refer to http://www.r7.fws.gov/nwr/arctic/pchmap2.html#section6)
I think that over the last three years I have put more maps up on the
Internet (at a guess approaching 20,000 to 30,000 static individual maps)
equaling any other website on the World Wide Web. So out of the tens of
thousands of maps (and hours) I finally publish one that got me fired....I
suppose the odds were going to run out eventually....
I am concerned that other Federal researchers may easily make the same
mistakes I just made and should learn from my example what happens if
you're not careful.
Patuxent was a great place to work, has amazing researchers and
everybody I worked with is very supportive.
Former Mapping Specialist at
GIS & Remote Sensing
United States Geological
Patuxent Wildlife Research