- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 22, 2001

A second federal agency is requesting an investigation of government employees who falsely planted fur samples of rare wildcats in Washington state and tainted a three-year national study.
Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth asked the Agriculture Department's inspector general to conduct a broad investigation into the incident in conjunction with an Interior Department probe announced earlier this week.
"I am deeply concerned with reports of inappropriate actions by three U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service biologists and other federal and state employees with regards to the scientific samples submitted for analysis in the nationwide Canada lynx survey," Mr. Bosworth said.
The government workers' actions "called into question the scientific integrity of the interagency survey," he said.
The previously undisclosed incident, first reported by The Washington Times, has outraged lawmakers, who have called for a General Accounting Office audit and House hearings.
Left unchecked, the falsified evidence could have forced closure of roads to vehicle traffic in national forests. Also banned in lynx habitats are off-road vehicles, snowmobiles, skis, snowshoes, livestock grazing and tree thinning.
"I am committed to determining all the facts," Mr. Bosworth said. "We should not allow an isolated incident to overshadow the hard work and dedication of our body of land-management professionals."
The Forest Service initiated an internal investigation after an employee informed a supervisor that officials planted three separate hair samples of Canadian lynx, a species protected by the Endangered Species Act, on rubbing posts being used to identify lynx habitats in Washington state.
The House Western Caucus yesterday called it a "malicious activity" to secretly support the agenda of the "green community."
Led by Rep. Richard W. Pombo, California Republican, the caucus asked the Bush administration to review potential criminal violations under several federal laws.
"This unethical behavior appears to be a clear example of federal land officials acting in a manner that is less than honest with the American public," said the caucus, which also called for firing the employees involved.
Sens. Gordon H. Smith, Oregon Republican, and Larry E. Craig, Idaho Republican, also asked for hearings to investigate possible fraud.
The Forest Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife say it was an innocent attempt to double-check the genetics-testing facility.
"If that is the case, it remains unexplained why field biologists would have spread the tainted sample on scratch pads out in the forest. Thus, many people in the public don't believe the biologists' cover story," the two senators said in a letter asking for a hearing.
Questions of waste, fraud and abuse also must be addressed, the senators said.
"If these federal employees did submit these tainted samples, as the press reports, at a minimum they should be expected to repay the government for the cost of the investigation and for the time spent collecting and analyzing the bogus samples," the senators said in the letter.
Oversight hearings would "send the message that Congress will not accept bogus or shoddy science when it comes to land management," they said.
The state of Washington issued an apology for the incident, with assurances the employees no longer will be allowed to participate in the research.
"I owe the public an apology," said Jeffrey Koenings, director of the Washington Fish and Wildlife Department. "As a biologist myself, the behavior of these biologists is not only extremely embarrassing, but unprofessional and cannot be tolerated."
The issue has touched a nerve throughout the 16 states and 57 national forests affected by the survey, set to conclude this year.
Many federal regulatory agencies have developed a "culture of fudging facts" to achieve policy goals, fostering mistrust in many communities, said Rob Gordon, director of the National Wilderness Institute.
"These individuals, being part of that culture, have gone a step further and planted false evidence," Mr. Gordon said.
"This demonstrates what people who have suffered under extreme interpretations of the environmental regulations have suspected that the goal of these studies is to support policy, not to answer scientific questions."

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