The truth about the Lynx study

Neil Jones neil at
Tue Apr 9 10:38:02 EDT 2002

The false story about this Lynx study has been posted here a few times.
There are several motives that people may have had. Some on this list are
just plain opposed to all conservation measures in principle. Others naively 
believe what they are told. Others may have an interest in conservation but 
put their commercial interests ahead of conservation ones.

It is not only relevant here because it debunks misinformation. In the big 
picture it has relevance to creatures like the Miami Blue. The Lynx story was 
started by people who do not care for the preservation of nature and 
_actively_ oppose it.  Likewise on this list there are those who _actively_ 
oppose the conservation of creatures like the Miami Blue . There are those
who profess to want to conserve it but naively distrubute or support 
propaganda against this aim and there are people who put their commercial 
interests before the Miami Blue and are prepared to potentially sacrifice it 
for these commercial interests.

This article may be summed up in one sentence
"There is no  evidence whatsoever to support either a conspiracy or a 
cover-up. "

-- OUTSIDE magazine, April, 2002
 Dispatches: Investigation
 Debunking Lynxgate
 As lawmakers accuse seven government biologists of fraud, the truth is
 drowned out by the headlines

 By Daniel Glick

 "THE ONLY THING we were doing was trying to get to the truth," says
 Mitch Wainwright, a 46-year-old Forest Service wildlife biologist based
 in Amboy, Washington. Instead he got an unwanted starring role in the
 most bizarre environmental flap of recent memory: Lynxgate.

 Details of "the great biofraud," as the The Washington Times has dubbed
 the affair, first emerged just before Christmas. Wainwright and six
 other state and federal wildlife scientists in Washington State
 allegedly "planted" clumps of wild lynx fur in the Gifford Pinchot and
 Wenatchee national forests. The intent, say their accusers, was to
 trigger the protections that are imposed when a threatened species like
 the Canada lynx is found living in a new area, namely closure of the
 forest to recreationists and loggers.

 For their roles in a green conspiracy that seemed worthy of Oliver
 Stone, Wainwright and five colleagues were reassigned to other
 programs-one other retired-and were told to keep their mouths shut.
 Wainwright was very reluctant to speak to Outside, fearing not only for
 his job but also for the future of all endangered-species programs in
 the United States.

 Why? Because industry groups, pundits, and conservative lawmakers-led by
 Republican House Committee on Resources chairman James Hansen of Utah
 and Scott McInnis of Colorado, the Republican who chairs the
 subcommittee that oversees national forests-are using the lynx
 controversy to launch wide-ranging attacks on endangered-species
 policies past, present, and future. "There is so much fear out there
 about how [the Endangered Species Act] works," says McInnis spokesman
 Blain Rethmeier. Then again, at least some of the fear has been inspired
 by McInnis himself. Last year, after four wilderness firefighters
 perished in a blaze in Washington State, he charged that Forest Service
 officials may have been culpable by delaying a decision allowing a
 helicopter to scoop water from a river containing threatened fish. The
 charge was later proven false.

 What emerges is not a scientific scandal but a case study in
 media-amplified demagoguery.

 It's all pretty rousing stuff, but the real untold story is that the
 great lynx biofraud is baloney. Outside interviewed 25 scientists,
 investigators, and policy makers familiar with the incident, and
 reviewed all the relevant reports. What emerges is not a scientific
 scandal but a case study in media-amplified demagoguery. There is no
 evidence whatsoever to support either a conspiracy or a cover-up. The
 scientists didn't "plant" lynx fur in the forests. They didn't plot to
 invoke the Endangered Species Act through falsified data. And even if
 they had, it wouldn't have worked, because any evidence of lynx would
 have to be confirmed with further research before new management
 decisions could be made.

 Lynxgate's selectively told tale of environmental skullduggery has so
 angered some biologists that they've started using the M word. "It's
 McCarthy politics all over again," says Elliott Norse, a founder of the
 Society for Conservation Biology, an Arlington, Virginia-based group
 that encourages biodiversity research. "It's the stupidest thing I've
 ever heard."

 To understand this fracas and why it has staying power, it helps to know
 a little bit about the threatened Canada lynx, a cousin to the bobcat
 found in Canada, the Rockies, and across a northern swath of the United
 States. The cat first landed at the center of controversy in 1998, when
 ecoterrorists cited the need to protect its habitat as justification for
 burning down $12
 million worth of facilities at the Vail ski resort. But our story begins
 the following year, in 1999, when an interagency team of American
 biologists began a three-year, 16-state survey to determine where in the
 nation the cat still roamed, and where it didn't. The team's primary
 scientific tool is a simple rubbing post, wrapped in carpet, laced with
 attractant scent, studded
 with small tacks, and placed in the woods. Drawn by the odor, critters
 brush against the tacks and leave behind hairs, which are then collected
 and sent to the Carnivore Conservation Genetics Laboratory in Missoula,
 Montana. If a submitted sample turns out to be lynx, that means the cat
 exists in the woods where it was collected.

 The problem was that in previous lynx studies, biologists had complained
 that the lab's results were screwy. In one case, technicians reported
 that submitted hair samples came from feral house cats-though the fur in
 question was taken from the middle of a wilderness. (The lab says it has
 clear protocols in place to correctly identify samples.) So in 1999, and
 again in
 2000, several biologists working on the survey on behalf of the U.S.
 Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, and the  Washington State
 Department of Fish and Wildlife independently decided to test the men
 and women in white coats by sending them hairs from a captive lynx. One
 biologist even sent in hairs plucked from "Harry"-a stuffed bobcat that
 he keeps in his office.

 In September 2000, somebody at the Forest Service sounded an alarm about
 the use of these "unauthorized" control samples. A departmental criminal
 investigation cleared the biologists of any wrongdoing, but a second
 report, prepared by a Portland, Oregon, private investigation firm and
 completed last June, notes that the biologists claim to have done
 everything aboveboard, except for a small detail: The national lynx
 study doesn't authorize using control samples, whether they're taken
 from Harry or a captive lynx. The scientists shrugged, and the whole
 thing landed in a binder on a shelf.

 In mid-December, someone tipped off The Washington Times, and the paper
 subsequently ran with news that "wildlife biologists planted false
 evidence of a rare cat species in two national forests." Other papers
 followed suit with bombastic editorials, and the fur really began to
 fly. Congressman Hansen called for a top-to-bottom federal review of the
 lynx survey. The scandal, he warned, threatened the very economy of
 rural America. "This hoax, if it hadn't been discovered," Hansen said,
 "could have wrecked some people's way of life."

 Mitch Wainwright and the other alleged conspirators, whose names were
 blacked out of the private investigator's report, could do nothing but
 sit tight as a maelstrom began to rage around them. Interior Secretary
 Gale Norton and Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman, who oversee Fish and
 Wildlife and the Forest Service respectively, each put their Office of
 Inspector General on the case. A congressional hearing was scheduled for
 February 28.

 But while Wainwright declined to discuss specifics, citing the
 investigation, he flatly denies the conspiracy charges.

 "There was no collusion," he says, "no agenda."

 The strangest thing about the so-called planted fur samples is the
 assumption that saws and snowmobiles will fall silent wherever lynx are
 discovered. In fact, there are virtually no cases in which the presence
 of  lynx has changed management policies. Lynx certainly didn't stop the
 Forest Service from approving the Vail ski area's planned expansion into
 what Colorado state biologists considered prime lynx habitat on the
 White River National Forest.

 When presented with this fact, Marnie Funk, a spokeswoman for Hansen's
 committee, would only refer back to the private investigator's findings.

 "There is clearly no smoking gun in that report," she allows. "But there
 are unanswered questions." She declined to elaborate, citing the pending
 congressional investigation, except to add that the biologists' use of
 unauthorized control samples was "a questionable way to conduct a

 Wainwright acknowledges that he erred by not following the chain of
 command. "We did things wrong," he says, citing their failure to clear
 the control samples with the head of the lynx program. (The biologists'
 immediate supervisors were aware of the control samples.) The small
 point is well taken, but the bigger picture here should give pause to
 anyone concerned over how easily politics trumps science inside the

 "Anything endangered-species related is now being called into question,"
 says Eric Wingerter, national field director for Public Employees for
 Environmental Responsibility, a green-tilted group that includes federal
 land managers. And the conservative press rushed to provide those
 critics with a soapbox: "The tendency of true believers," sniffed an
 opinion piece in The Weekly Standard, "is to defend any means to their
 end. "Indeed, post-Lynxgate, some lawmakers have called for a review of
 an unrelated federal grizzly-bear research program, while others are
 rehashing dubious stories that federal biologists faked data that
 touched off the spotted-owl wars of the eighties. "The people with the
 agenda aren't the biologists," says Wingerter. "And the biologists are
 scared to death."

 For his part, Forest Service scientist Mitch Wainwright, who is now
 working on timber-sale evaluations, does plead guilty-"of naïveté." But
 as for charges that he and his colleagues were engaged in a crusade, he
 is emphatic. "Nothing," he says, "could be further from the truth."
Neil Jones- Neil at
"At some point I had to stand up and be counted. Who speaks for the
butterflies?" Andrew Lees - The quotation on his memorial at Crymlyn Bog
National Nature Reserve


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