- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 23, 2002

A professional society of wildlife biologists is investigating its members who submitted false samples of lynx hair during a national study to determine whether the actions violated ethical standards.
The Wildlife Society will examine the actions of three federal and state employees who submitted samples from captive and stuffed cats for laboratory DNA analysis. The lynx is listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.
Rep. Scott McInnis, Colorado Republican and a leading critic of the employee's actions first reported by The Washington Times, asked the society to sanction its members in an April 16 letter, two days before the group held its Northwest conference in Spokane, Wash., and made the announcement.
"The Wildlife Society is doing the right thing to affirmatively defend the credibility and integrity of the profession it represents by further scrutinizing the actions of the involved biologists," said Mr. McInnis, who heads the Resources Committee's subcommittee on forests and forest health.
"The grossly unethical actions by certain members of their organization have substantially undermined the public's confidence, and I hope the Wildlife Society will show zero tolerance if it draws the same conclusion the General Accounting Office and the administration have drawn," Mr. McInnis said.
Jack Ward Thomas, Forest Service chief during the Clinton administration, said in a speech at the conference that the scandal caused by the actions of the biologists cannot be ignored.
"There is an elephant in the room. It is standing there in the back, swaying back and forth, flapping its ears and exuding foul odors from time to time. A blaze orange sign hangs along its sides with 'lynx scandal' in large black letters," Mr. Thomas said.
"We could continue to ignore its presence or pretend that having joint occupancy of the room with an elephant of such size is no big deal. But that elephant is a big deal, and we can't ignore the beast because it is big and ugly and smells bad," Mr. Thomas said.
The Wildlife Society has a code of ethics and standards for professional conduct, and it appears the employees may have breached "several of those canons," Mr. Thomas said.
In particular, the 10th canon reads: "Wildlife biologists shall at all times uphold the dignity and integrity of the wildlife profession. They shall endeavor to avoid even the suspicion of dishonesty, fraud, deceit, misrepresentation, or unprofessional demeanor."
"Most of the participants did not reveal their actions to the laboratory until forced by circumstances to do so. The undeniable end result is that the dignity and integrity of the profession have been damaged by their actions due to widespread suspicion of dishonesty, fraud, deceit and misrepresentation," Mr. Thomas said.
The three society members and four other federal and state employees submitted samples that were labeled as having been collected from two national forests in Washington state.
The revelation sparked two inspector-general investigations, House hearings and a General Accounting Office review. The employees maintain they submitted the false samples to test the lab's accuracy, but their integrity has been questioned.
The samples were submitted during a three-year survey to determine Canadian lynx habitat in 16 states and 57 national forests.
"This is very serious business, and we absolutely have to address it very seriously," Mr. Thomas said yesterday.
The Wildlife Society did not return a call for comment, but Mr. Thomas said the employees' actions should be considered and judged as to their appropriateness. The actions should either be vigorously defended or condemned.

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