- The Washington Times - Friday, January 4, 2002

Government scientists planted samples of lynx hairs in a third national forest, according to documents obtained by The Washington Times.

A preliminary investigation by the U.S. Forest Service said planted samples were submitted from the Mount Baker/Snoqualmie National Forest in Washington state, but the report did not say how many additional samples were submitted from that region.

Federal officials originally confirmed that three samples of the rare cat were planted in the Wenatchee National Forest and Gifford Pinchot National Forest in Washington state. The falsification was first reported last month in The Times.

Additionally, the report says three to five falsified samples were submitted by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

"The initial Forest Service investigation raises the specter that agenda-driven biologists may have taken matters into their own hands," said Rep. Scott McInnis, Colorado Republican and chairman of the House Resources subcommittee on forests and forest health.

"These charges cast a dark cloud of suspicion over the national lynx survey and its credibility and cannot be ignored," said Mr. McInnis, who will conduct a House hearing in February.

"It is my hope that congressional oversight and the ongoing investigations will get to the bottom of this troubling pattern of suspicious doings," Mr. McInnis said.

The seven federal and state scientists were participating in a three-year survey to determine lynx habitat that would establish land-use restrictions in 16 states and 57 national forests.

The scientists say they submitted the false samples to test laboratory accuracy, but congressional leaders and some Bush administration officials are skeptical and believe the intention was to block use and development of public land.

One congressional staffer said it appears the planted samples were spread throughout the forest to show that the creatures had a wider range of habitat.

"They don't care about the lynx but about how much land they can tie up," the staffer said.

The report said one state scientist has acknowledged sending an additional three samples of bobcat hair taken from a pelt and labeled as lynx, but the laboratory reported that five samples were submitted.

The employee was confronted with the discrepancy but "would not cooperate further in the investigation without unspecified legal and contractual specifications" and was never contacted again by investigators, the report said.

Two of the falsified samples first reported were taken from a lynx in an animal sanctuary and the third from an escaped pet lynx.

The wildcat was listed as a threatened species in March 2000 and is protected by the Endangered Species Act.

The incidents were first reported by a Forest Service employee who left a phone mail message for his supervisor the day before his retirement in September 2000.

However, that call was not returned until January 2001, and the Forest Service did not begin an investigation until Feb. 15, 2001, records said.

The investigation was concluded in June, and the employees were disciplined but not fired. Federal officials refuse to name their employees, citing privacy reasons.

After the story was reported Dec. 17 by The Washington Times, key congressional leaders called for two investigations by the inspector general, an audit by the General Accounting Office of the entire survey, and House and Senate hearings to be conducted after Congress returns later this month.

Senators and representatives have called for the federal employees involved to be fired, and Washington state legislators are also pushing for an investigation.

"Had the whistleblower not tipped this off, we may never have known about it," said one source close to the investigation.

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