- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 3, 2002

Federal agencies are teaming up for a joint investigation to determine why government employees planted evidence of a threatened species in national forests.
The fraudulent samples of lynx hair were submitted by five federal and two Washington state employees for laboratory analysis. One of the workers notified his supervisor of the false sampling, and the Forest Service investigated and disciplined the employees. Two other federal employees who worked for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also were disciplined.
Multiagency investigations were called for by congressional leaders and Bush administration officials after the falsified samplings were reported by The Washington Times.
The Interior and Agriculture departments' inspectors general are combining their efforts with the General Accounting Office for an "expedited" investigation into the matter, a Bush administration official said. The GAO inquiry is being conducted by its office of special investigations, which examines suspected criminal wrongdoing.
"This goes to the fundamental principle of the Endangered Species Act and the credibility of the program. That's not lost on anybody," the administration official said.
"It's logical to assume if the biologists did it in the case of the lynx, they could do the same with other endangered species," the official said.
The scientists were participating in a three-year survey to determine lynx habitat in 16 states and 57 national forests and say they submitted the false samples in two Washington national forests to test laboratory accuracy.
Administration officials say the fake samples were not added to the overall study and have not tainted the survey. However, critics of the actions say it has crippled the credibility of future studies involving endangered species.
"This lynx debacle calls into question everything the Fish and Wildlife Service has done for the past eight years," said Rep. James V. Hansen, Utah Republican and chairman of the House Resources Committee.
"It makes me wonder if past studies have been marred by sloppy or faulty research," Mr. Hansen said.
Mr. Hansen, along with Rep. Scott McInnis, Colorado Republican and chairman of the forests and forest health subcommittee, requested the investigations. The scope is expected to include whether criminal charges can be brought against the employees, whom officials refuse to name, citing privacy issues.
"For eight years, Republicans have been saying that the federal protection of endangered and threatened species requires the use of solid, proven science that can stand up to the scrutiny of peer review by the scientific community. This incident tells you why. 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," Mr. Hansen said.
The ramifications of the employees' actions are significant in that it could have led to the implementation of strict land-use regulations, said Rob Rivett, a lawyer for the Pacific Legal Foundation, an organization dedicated to Endangered Species Act reform.
"It causes real concerns among folks like us who are constantly battling what we consider to be junk science supporting government decisions," Mr. Rivett said.
The foundation has a case before the U.S. Supreme Court challenging the listing of the fairy shrimp as endangered in California. Mr. Rivett said their case contends that the study used by the Fish and Wildlife Service to list the creature as threatened with extinction was "chock-full of errors."
There has been a lingering concern that endangered species have been exploited to raise funds and advance political agendas, said Rob Gordon, director of the National Wilderness Institute.
"What is more disturbing, however, is to find that government scientists are faking studies to justify political goals," Mr. Gordon said.

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