USGS Contractor Fired for Posting Arctic Caribou Calving Map on the Internet
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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
from the internet (Note that since then this website can again be found, but it is not clear if Ian's maps still exist). 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
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
of biodiversity and the environment. The website was often visited by
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 each day.
All of this comes as a rather big surprise to me. I was given no chance
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
legal recourse. I have received no written explanation (or even an email)
stating the exact reasons for the termination decision and I understand
even though this would be a reasonable courtesy to expect, it is unlikely
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
not been so inappropriate based on everything else that was going on, I
doubt that anyone would have noticed. Your work showed a lot of
"...the fallout would not have been so great had the subject matter not
one of the three USDOI super hot topics with the new administration and
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
hope that in the future what just happened to me will not happen to
I would recommend anybody in a similar circumstances 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
amazing. I very much appreciate how quickly people have acted on my
and helped publicize my plight and I especially wish to thank the
international mapping community...receiving letters of support from far
places cheers me up no end. Please feel free to forward this email to
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
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
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
distribution atlases of Africa, maps for tigers in asia and I was working
digitizing North American mammal range maps produced by the Smithsonian
I have also been conducting background research to prepare proposals to
study the effects of mineral extraction on biodiversity and protected
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
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 carribou 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.
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
or any other guidelines on publishing maps depicting ANWR...I only now
been informed that there is a two week old agency "communications
that limits who is allowed to distribute new information on ANWR within my
I thought that I was helping further public and scientific understanding
debate of the issues at ANWR by making some clearer maps. I also hoped
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
I had done. I made no statement about what the maps might mean with
to oil development of the refuge.
The web pages were put up on Wednesday, March 7, last week. The first
I did when I put the ANWR pages up on the internet was to inform other
Biological Resources Division mapping people and other agency (Fish
Service and National Park Service respectively) GIS people through email
that they were on the web. Informing other Federal colleagues and
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 proceedure 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
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
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
even got to work on Monday.
I also assumed that because all I was doing was esentially presenting
existing public information in a clearer and improved format, there was
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)
maps were simply to digitize them ("trace"), then overlay them on
and vegetation maps and then summarize how may years specific areas were a
high density caribou calving area. I found a similar (poor quality)
map on the FWS website that allowed me to check the accuracy of my simple
I was unaware that FWS had updated the data. There is no mention of
information on the FWS website. This new data has still to be made
If my maps were inaccurate in any way so are the public FWS maps I
(please refer to http://www.r7.fws.gov/nwr/arctic/pchmap2.html#section6). (Note that this website was mostly unavailable as of 03/17/01. I have archived this website and the map in question and made it available at http://www.mapcruzin.com/arctic_refuge/pchmap2.html#section6 until FWS puts it back online. Click here for more information about web archiving).
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)
equalling 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
Patuxent was a great place to work, has amazing researchers and
I worked with is very supportive.
Former Mapping Specialist at the:
GIS & Remote Sensing Unit
Biological Resources Division
United States Geological Survey
Patuxent Wildlife Research Center
Old Homepage (no longer available)
The Global Environmental Atlas (no longer available)
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