- The Washington Times - Monday, January 7, 2002

As Americans, we should have been astounded by the recent findings that federal officials intentionally planted hair from the threatened Canadian lynx in our national forests in order to impose sweeping land management regulations. We should have been shocked at the audacity of government employees to falsify evidence in order to advance their environmental agenda, and even more perplexed at the lackluster response from their respective agencies when the transgressions were brought to light.

But in truth, many of us who come from rural America have grown accustomed to environmental activism prevailing over the rule of law and over the best interests of families and communities. Time and time again, we have witnessed the federal government run roughshod over rural America because the Washington elite thought they knew better than the regular folks who tilled the soil, ran the cattle, or enjoyed their favorite campsite or trail. And, if a faulty study or falsified evidence has been necessary in order to enact radical environmental policies, government bureaucrats have had a green light for the past eight years because of the ends-justifies-the-means rationalization that became common practice during the Clinton administration.

This latest revelation, that officials from the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife planted false evidence of a Canadian Lynx on three occasions in our national forests, received a typical response from the agencies. Instead of terminating the employees, the individuals were given counseling and placed right back on the job to carry on with their environmental activism.

This lackadaisical approach to willful, unethical conduct is unacceptable, and we see no credible alternative other than to terminate the parties if there is convincing evidence that they knowingly and willingly planted unauthorized samples. But more importantly, this pattern of disregard for rural America and the acceptance of this type of environmental activism in our government agencies must come to an end.

It is this same disregard for rural America that caused federal officials to go after Peggy Bargon for presenting then-first lady Hillary Clinton with an Indian "dream catcher" which she made from various bird feathers. Because some of these feathers had fallen off of birds covered under federal wildlife protection laws, Ms. Bargon's gift cost her thousands of dollars in fines and legal fees. Yet, when federal officials exhibit blatant and willful disregard for the law, they receive a slap on the wrist and go back to work.

Then there is the case of Donald Fife, a professional scientist specializing in environmental mining and engineering geology, who learned from a former U.S. Forest Service official that plants listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) had been secretly placed on his property in an attempt to close about 30,000 acres of the highest mineral valued land in Southern California.

The list of government offenses against rural families and communities over the past eight years is endless. On numerous occasions, agencies bypassed Congress and the public process by having political appointees enact new "rules" to fit the agenda of Al Gore and the environmental movement. When public meetings were held to listen to the will of the people, Clinton officials were notorious for massaging the results to conform with their environmental agenda. Using shoddy science, government agencies have routinely added plants, animals and other species to the ESA list in order to seize land from local communities and landowners.

It is high time that our federal agencies realize that their actions affect the livelihood of millions of citizens of rural America. The farmers, ranchers, small business owners and outdoorsmen who live in our districts must be able to work with federal land management agencies to protect our natural environment while still providing jobs and preserving their way of life. This is not possible in the face of willful corruption.

This latest debacle may just provide the necessary impetus for Congress to take seriously this kind of fraud and environmental activism in our federal agencies. House Resources Committee Chairman James Hansen and Forests and Forest Health Subcommittee Chairman Scott McInnis have agreed to hold oversight hearings on this issue very soon. As we take on this colossal task, we hope the Bush administration will embrace this opportunity to work with Congress to re-establish the credibility of land-management agencies so that our national treasures and our rich culture we enjoy in rural America can be protected for generations to come.

Reps. Richard W. Pombo and John E. Peterson are the newly elected chairman and communications chairman, respectively, of the House Western Caucus.

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