Environmentalists at Work

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December 17, 2001 Rare lynx hairs found in forests exposed as hoax By Audrey Hudson THE WASHINGTON TIMES Federal and state wildlife biologists planted false evidence of a rare cat species in two national forests, officials told The Washington Times.

Had the deception not been discovered, the government likely would have banned many forms of recreation and use of natural resources in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest and Wenatchee National Forest in Washington state. The previously unreported Forest Service investigation found that the science of the habitat study had been skewed by seven government officials: three Forest Service employees, two U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials and two employees of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. The officials planted three separate samples of Canadian lynx hair on rubbing posts used to identify existence of the creatures in the two national forests. DNA testing of two of the samples matched that of a lynx living inside an animal preserve. The third DNA sample matched that of an escaped pet lynx being held in a federal office until its owner retrieved it, federal officials said. After the falsified samples were exposed by a Forest Service colleague, the employees said they were not trying to manipulate or expand the lynx habitat, but instead were testing the lab's ability to identify the cat species through DNA analysis, said Joel Holtrop, a Forest Service official. "Even if that is the case, it was inappropriate," Mr. Holtrop said. Forestry officials, conservationists and retired federal officials said they were outraged that the data were tampered with and said they are skeptical it was an attempt to test the lab. "I would find the evil-twin argument more plausible," said Rob Gordon, executive director of the National Wilderness Institute. "That would be like bank robbers taking money from a bank and saying they were just testing the security of a bank, they weren't really stealing the money. That's beautiful, but I don't think it will fly," Mr. Gordon said. Retired Fish and Wildlife Service biologist James M. Beers called the false sampling amazing but not surprising. "I'm convinced that there is a lot of that going on for so-called higher purposes," Mr. Beers said. The employees have been counseled for their actions and banned from participating in the three-year survey of the lynx, listed as a threatened animal under the Endangered Species Act. Federal officials would not name the offending employees, citing privacy concerns.

-- Bob in WI (bjwick@hotmail.com), December 17, 2001

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