Lost on most mainstream media in the avalanche of year-end reviews was a story revealed by the Washington Times on a group of federal and state wildlife workers who planted false evidence of a threatened species in three national forests.
According to the delayed release of the results of a Forest Service investigation (originally claimed to be a private personnel matter), seven government employees (three from the Forest Service, two from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and two from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife) planted at least five separate samples of Canadian lynx hair on rubbing posts in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, the Wenatchee National Forest and the Mount Baker/Snoqualmie National Forest in Washington state. The workers then arranged to have the hair samples sent to a laboratory as evidence of the rare wildcats inhabiting those areas.
Unfortunately for the perpetrators, laboratory analysis showed that one of the samples of fur they sent matches DNA of an escaped pet lynx. Two others match the DNA of a lynx living comfortably in an animal preserve. However, one conspiracy theory were floating is that all of the samples may have actually been snatched from the stole of a theatre patroness in Toronto during a PETA anti-fur demonstration (but you didnt get that from us).
After a fellow worker at the Forest Service reported the falsified samples to superiors, the accused claimed that they were simply testing the laboratorys accuracy in identifying the samples through DNA analysis. Sure. We hear O.J. wanted to offer up a similar excuse in his trial but the Dream Team talked him out of it.
Apparently, some on Capitol Hill arent buying the excuse either. While the workers were "counseled" for their actions and removed from the lynx study, some dont think that goes far enough. According to the Washington Times, the Interior and Agriculture departments inspectors general are combining efforts with the General Accounting Office in an "expedited" investigation into the matter. That investigation could determine whether criminal charges should be brought against the employees. "We came very close to impacting the economy of an entire region because of a handful of dishonest people. The use of sound science and peer review could have prevented this whole problem," Rep. James V. Hansen (R-UT) told the Washington Times.
The controversy stems from a three-year study the Clinton Administration launched in 1999 to determine lynx habitats. It was criticized at the time as a political move to justify the banning on federal lands of off-road vehicles, snowmobiles, skis and snowshoes, as well as livestock grazing.
The lynx, a medium-sized cat with a short tail, spotted fur and tufted ear-tips, has become the latest symbol in the war between environmentalists and Western rights advocates. In 1998, when the Vail Ski Resort announced an expansion of ski trails into possible lynx habitat, the Earth Liberation Front (ELF), a rabid animal rights group, allegedly burned down several resort buildings and ski lifts in protest.
This case is further evidence that the Endangered Species Act has been grossly manipulated and politicized by animal rights activists and their supporters. Whether its in the name of the spotted owl, the snail darter or the lowly fairy shrimp, real people are losing their homes, property and livelihoods in an abuse of what was intended to be a noble cause.
Whatever the outcome, the actions of these seven government employees will add fuel to an already raging fire of Western resentment to federal government policies on public lands. The Sagebrush Rebellion has been dealt an important new card. The mainstream media may want to start paying attention.
The controversy over a group of federal and state wildlife workers who submitted falsified fur samples as part of a lynx habitat study has turned decidedly nasty, with allegations by the Seattle Times that facts in the case were erroneously reported by the Washington Times, which broke the story.
The allegations came less than a week after Seattle Times editor James Vesely, on December 24, 2001, wrote, "Our editorial opinion accepts the majority and logical view that the surveyors (wildlife employees) knew exactly what they were doing and deliberately tried to cook the books on lynx population."
On December 30, 2001, Seattle Times reporter Lynda Mapes wrote that the forest workers actions were "reported inaccurately in stories widely re-circulated by the media this month." Mapes claims the Washington Times, in particular, erred in reporting that workers "planted" lynx hair on scratching posts at lynx survey stations in three national forests. According to Mapes, at least some of the hair samples were sent directly to the lab after being retrieved from a wire fence surrounding a wildlife park containing lynx. Another sample was allegedly plucked from one of the workers stuffed bobcats, affectionately named "old Harry."
In addition, Mapes claims that before sending in the falsified samples, "several (employees) told their supervisors and one notified the lab itself." However, according to Scott Mills, co-leader of the national lynx survey, "For them to tell their supervisors is more or less irrelevant because their supervisors are not in charge of the study." Either way, according to Mills, the group is guilty of "fabricating data."
Finally, Mapes reports that "investigators so far have found the biologists werent trying to skew the study, but only wanted to test the accuracy of the survey lab because of questionable results in the past." Mapes appears to be referring to an aborted 1998 lynx study which, according to her, was "discredited because the results were ruined at the lab." What she fails to mention is that the 1998 survey was discredited because federal officials found that fur samples said to be from a lynx were actually from coyotes and other animals. Sound familiar?
The most recent lynx habitat survey was launched by the Clinton Administration in 1999. For the past three years more than 500 biologists in a dozen states have been monitoring, at taxpayer expense, more than 10,000 scratching posts in forests across the U.S. in order to establish the range of the Canada Lynx, a threatened species. The results of all that work? According to Mr. Mills, "no lynx have been found in areas where theyre unexpected." Phew! Keep up the good work, boys and girls.
As for Ms. Mapes allegations, matters little the route the falsified evidence took to get to the lab. That supervisors may have known the phony samples were being sent only makes the deception worse. The real issue here, as the December 24 Seattle Times editorial pointed out, is "the lynx issue will now taint all the work done in support of the (Endangered Species) Acts underlying foundation of threatened wildlife." Or, as Barbara Weber of the U.S. Forest Service told the Seattle Times, "If people are tainting data and planting data, that speaks to the integrity and credibility of the agency as a whole It is huge, beyond what they (biologists) thought could be an outcome of this."
Meanwhile, back on Capitol Hill, two environmental lobby groups are launching a counter offensive in support of the accused biologists. Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) and Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics are calling the investigation into the lynx issue a right-wing political "witch hunt in search of a false conspiracy."
According to the Washington Times, PEER claims congressional investigators calling for the Interior Department to fire the accused wildlife workers, are guilty of violating the Hatch Act, which limits interference in the federal hiring process and is intended to prevent patronage. The Interior Department dismissed those allegations, noting the group cited in a letter to the department a 1993 version of the act that was later repealed. "After reading their bogus letter, I doubt they could tell the Hatch Act from a hatched egg," an Interior spokesman told the Washington Times.
Final results from a General Accounting Office investigation into the lynx matter are due later this month. Congressional hearings could begin shortly thereafter. For more on the lynx scandal, read Here a Lynx, There a Lynx.
On March 6, 2002, the General Accounting Office (GAO) released the results of its investigation into a group of federal and state wildlife workers who submitted false evidence of an endangered lynx in three national forests.
According to the GAO, the government workers acknowledged wrongdoing and admitted they collaborated on submitting the phony evidence. In addition, it was revealed that some of their supervisors had prior knowledge of their actions but made no attempt to stop them. In fact, although the workers were verbally reprimanded, they later received salary bonuses from supervisors for their work on the project.
The GAO could not ascertain the real motivation behind the workers actions; whether they were trying to "test" the accuracy of the DNA laboratory, as they claim, or trying to artificially expand the habitat of the endangered cat in order to justify further restrictions on federal lands of activities such as snowmobiling, skiing and livestock grazing.
Regardless, as Rep. James V. Hansen (R-UT) points out, even if the biologists were merely testing the lab, "it shows a fundamental mistrust that these scientists have for the very science they are using. This is very, very troubling."
A separate report released on March 1, 2002 by the U.S. Department of Interior (DOI) found no evidence of criminal intent but did "uncover a pattern of bad judgment, an absence of scientific rigor and several troubling policy issues. In addition, parts of the story told by the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) biologists involved stretch credulity," according to DOI Inspector General Earl E. Devaney. On the issue of the workers bonuses, Devaney wrote, "Awarding the involved employees with monies and specifically praising their work on the lynx study so soon after the incident is not only an incredible display of bad judgment, but also highlights FWSs excessively liberal award policy and practice ."
The House Resources Committees Subcommittee on Forest and Forest Health is currently holding hearings on the matter. Mark Rey of the Agriculture Department began his testimony by saying his remarks would be brief, "so as not to unnecessarily delay the expected horsewhipping."