- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 19, 2001

Western lawmakers yesterday called for the firings of federal wildlife biologists for planting false evidence of a rare wildcat in two national forests.
"If in fact it occurred, and there's clear evidence it did, people ought to be fired," said Sen. Larry E. Craig, Idaho Republican and chairman of the Republican Policy Committee.
"If they hadn't been caught, you might have seen entire forests shut down on a false premise. That's serious stuff," Mr. Craig said.
The Washington Times reported Monday that federal and state officials planted three separate false samples of Canadian lynx hair on rubbing posts used to identify existence of the rare creatures.
Evidence of the cat's presence would force the closure of roads to vehicle traffic in national forests. Also banned in lynx habitat are off-road vehicles, snowmobiles, skis, snowshoes, livestock grazing and tree thinning.
House Republicans asked the General Accounting Office to conduct a complete audit to determine whether the false sampling contaminated a three-year study of the lynx that was to conclude this year.
The investigation was requested by Republicans Rep. James V. Hansen of Utah, House Resources chairman, and Rep. Scott McInnis of Colorado, forest and forest health subcommittee chairman. Mr. McInnis said he will hold congressional oversight hearings when Congress returns in January to determine why evidence was falsified.
"There are a number of questions that need to be investigated and answered," Mr. McInnis said. "This is certainly a black eye for the lynx survey program."
The lynx survey is ongoing in 16 states and affects 57 national forests. Errors would have a "broad and profound impact" on the management of millions of acres of federal land, Mr. Hansen said in a statement.
"That, in turn, impacts local economies and people's livelihoods," Mr. Hansen said. "This hoax, if it hadn't been discovered, could have wrecked some people's way of life. These involved employees should be promptly fired and the entire national inventory reviewed for proven accuracy."
DNA testing of two planted samples matched that of a lynx living inside an animal preserve. The third DNA sample matched that of an escaped pet lynx held in a federal office until its owner retrieved it, federal officials said.
After a colleague exposed the falsified samples, the employees said they were not trying to manipulate or expand the lynx habitat but were testing the lab's ability to identify the species through DNA analysis.
Lawmakers expressed skepticism the employees had no intention of expanding lynx habitat to force tougher land restrictions.
"Now that their hands have been caught, are they devising an excuse, or is it real?" Mr. Craig said.
Mr. Hansen and Mr. McInnis sent letters to Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman and Interior Secretary Gale A. Norton expressing "alarm and outrage."
"Whatever the reason, these individuals appear to have knowingly and willfully planted false evidence that, in the absence of being exposed, would have had immense implications on any number of management decisions throughout the affected forests," the letter said.
"As such, we believe these individuals should be terminated immediately if their guilt is verifiable," the letter said. "Even if not criminal again, an issue we reserve judgment on this unethical behavior runs afoul of even the most lackadaisical standard of professional conduct."
Western senators also are considering oversight hearings of the incidents, which occurred in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest and Wenatchee National Forest in Washington state.
The employees have been counseled for their actions and banned from the lynx study. Federal officials would not name the employees, citing privacy concerns.
A Washington state legislator said his constituents are hopping mad at in the false sampling.
"I've got folks climbing all over me to investigate this," state Rep. Jim Buck said.
The community he represents by has been vexed by endangered-species regulations, particularly the spotted owl listing that effectively shut down the timber industry.
"What has made us the most angry is we have watched friends lose their homes and property because of the Endangered Species Act in the name of species preservation. Then to have something like this come up people are hopping up and down mad," Mr. Buck said.
Outraged citizens are circulating form letters to be sent to the inspector general with jurisdiction over the Forest Service demanding an inquiry.
"That government employees would engage in these fraudulent actions calls into question each and every decision these employees and their supervisors have been involved with throughout their careers," the letter said.
Rob Gordon, executive director of the National Wilderness Institute, said the revelations called into question all federal actions on species protection.
"If true, these allegations reveal an unscientific and heavily politicized application of the Endangered Species Act," he said. "All the endangered species actions of these same offices are now suspect as possibly being arbitrary and capricious, or worse."

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