- The Washington Times - Monday, January 21, 2002

DENVER The news that federal and state employees were caught planting Canadian lynx hairs during a three-year study of the wildcat's habitat in Washington state came as no surprise to Donna Thornton.
A third-generation logger who runs a small family timber operation in Kalispell, Mont., Mrs. Thornton said the governments' pro-environmental bias has been obvious for years.
"People here aren't shocked in the least," said Mrs. Thornton. "People in the West have known for a long time that the Forest Service isn't a scientifically ethical organization anymore."
The admission that employees of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Forest Service and Washington state falsified data confirmed what many rural Westerners believe: Agencies are doctoring species and habitat studies to stop logging, ranching and mining on the federal government's vast land holdings.
"It's 'suspicions confirmed' that a lot of this data is manhandled and cooked up," said William Perry Pendley, president of the Mountain States Legal Foundation in Denver. "It's also one more arrow in the quiver for people in the West who are against the use of endangered species to shut down economic activity."
The lynx revelations, reported last month in The Washington Times, have also stoked the long-simmering feud between rural Westerners and the Eastern establishment, known as the "War on the West."
"This has spread like wildfire," said Bruce Vincent, president of Communities for a Great Northwest in Libby, Mont. "It inflames an already inflamed issue."
At stake is access to federally managed property, which accounts for more than 85 percent of the land in some Western counties. Rural Westerners say the government, prodded by environmental groups, is strangling their economies by cutting off access to the land.
Environmentalists argue that the restrictions are needed to protect endangered and threatened species such as the lynx.
The lynx survey, which is being investigated by several federal agencies, would have been used to establish land-use rules in 16 states and 57 national forests.
Endangered-species arguments have often resulted in cooperation from rural Westerners, who have been willing in the past to take an economic hit to save an animal on the brink of extinction. But evidence of "biofraud" in the lynx case is likely to end that spirit of good will, Mr. Vincent said.
"We've worked in good faith with the Forest Service, and to find this out puts the entire process in question," Mr. Vincent said. "It's going to do unbelievable damage to processes all over the West, where the local people are told to sit down and participate in the recovery of an endangered species."
Westerners already view the Endangered Species Act as a "bludgeoning device" designed to "move people from the landscape we love," he said.
"We're asked to participate in the process and we have. We're asked to go to meetings and we do," Mr. Vincent said. "And each time, a decision comes down that scuttles our local work. Each time, they couch their actions in terms of, 'We've got to take action because this is what the best available science indicates.'
"We know our sawmills have closed, our forests have been closed, our mines have been closed. There's rampant unemployment," he said. "And now we hear the science may be in question? If they're misusing the science, if they're falsifying data, then the house of trust we're all living in is burning."
The Forest Service declined to comment on its damaged reputation due to the ongoing Inspector General's investigation, but the agency is taking the matter "very seriously," said spokeswoman Heidi Valetkevitch.
Officials from the Forest Service and Washington Fish and Wildlife Department testified Wednesday before a state legislative committee in Olympia, Wash. The Democratic committee chairman said he was satisfied that the scientists meant no wrong, although two Republican members called for a continuing investigation, according to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
"The perception is that something dishonest was afoot is hard to counter even if that perception is wrong," said the Post-Intelligencer in a Dec. 20 editorial. "[A] full public airing may be the only way to restore confidence in the validity of the agencies' scientific data collection."
The ongoing investigation of the lynx survey has also resurrected long-standing suspicion of data falsification on other species issues. Tammy Jensen, vice president of Rural Voters of America in Whitehall, Mont., said she was reminded of reports of cheating in the spotted-owl studies in Oregon and Washington.
The owl counts, she said, were taken by listening to their calls, not by sight. "There were long-standing rumors that the conflict-industry advocates [environmentalists] had learned to make the calls and positioned themselves in the woods when the counts were being done," Miss Jensen said.
"It's a story that's been told so many times that, well, you wonder, especially when you see more evidence here with the lynx," she said.
Mr. Vincent recalled an incident in which the locals caught the Fish and Wildlife Service in a similar setup.
During a grizzly bear count, the locals accused the agency of using horse carcasses to attract bears, which can give bears a taste for horse meat and endanger the ranchers' stables.
At first, the agency denied it. "Then, at the next meeting, a man from Idaho showed them pictures of horses carcasses where they were baiting bears," he said. "So Fish and Wildlife said they wouldn't do it again. But that hurt trust."
Those who live in rural areas are especially frustrated when they hear federal experts offer findings that conflict with the local wisdom. "I mean, we know bears cross the road. We know where the lynx is. We've had families living here for generations we know where the wildlife is," Mrs. Thornton said.
"So we know when they're telling the truth and when they're lying," she said.
The impulse to falsify the data fits in with the atmosphere of the Clinton administration, Mr. Pendley said. "The feeling in the Clinton administration was that you could play fast and loose with the facts if you were doing good and important things, especially when you saw the president lying about minor and inconsequential things.
"I'm sure they thought, 'Hey, we're saving the wolf and the lynx and endangered species, so the facts be damned,'" he said.

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