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To: jennyp
This article from the Seattle P-I (Dec 18) doesn't specify scratching post vs. sample vial...
Scientists' 'wild hair' really wasn't

Fur from tame lynx was inserted in samples to test laboratory's ability

Tuesday, December 18, 2001


Snowmobilers and timber groups are wondering if government biologists have cried "lynx."

State and federal biologists recently admitted to planting fur samples in a survey to determine the distribution of Canadian lynx in national forests. Three samples taken from captive cats were added to samples reportedly found in the Wenatchee and Gifford Pinchot national forests.

But the biologists, who notified interested parties of what they did, said the samples were added to make sure the lab analyzing the fur was able to successfully detect lynx with its DNA analysis.

"It's a way of testing if a lab knows what it's doing," Doug Zimmer, spokesman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Lacey, said yesterday. "It was not an attempt to put lynx where they're not."

Lynx were found in the Okanogan National Forest in the survey, but not the two forests to which the samples were added. The false samples were removed from the study and did not taint its outcome. Samples were collected again this year.

If lynx -- which have protection as a federally threatened species -- had been found in Wenatchee and Gifford Pinchot national forests some activities, including snowmobiling and tree cutting, could be curtailed.

The elusive cat, with its broad, furry paws, is well-adapted to hunting snowshoe hares through snowy drifts. The snowmobiles pack the drifts and give unfair advantage to other predators competing with lynx for prey. Thickets of lodgepole pine need to be maintained as habitat for the hares.

Even if the lynx were shown to reside elsewhere in Washington, changes in land use would come slowly and would not necessarily be severe.

"Nothing would change overnight," said Rex Holloway, spokesman with the U.S. Forest Service.

Chris West, vice president of the timber group the American Forest Resource Council, said he wasn't sure the government biologists were trying to falsify results, but was concerned about the study.

"There's already been some funny business going on with the lynx," he said.

A few years ago, an Oregon lynx study performed by a contractor hired by the Forest Service was called into question, West said. The contractor claimed to find lynx, but the results could not be validated and the contractor was not paid.

The seven biologists who were part of the government study included employees of the Forest Service, Fish and Wildlife Service and state Department of Fish and Wildlife. An investigation was conducted into the adding of the samples as soon as it was discovered, and the scientists involved were taken off the project, agency spokesmen said.

"This is a very, very isolated incident," Zimmer said.

The samples falsely added to the survey came from two lynx, one belonging to a federal scientist doing research and the other from a wild-animal park, he said. "If you were really going to skew something, you would use samples that you picked off the wild."

In experiments, "control" samples can be added to test techniques, but their addition was not included in the protocol for this particular survey.

The incident could undermine the integrity of the research.

"It jeopardizes the whole process of trying to protect the lynx in the first place," said Glenn Warren, president of the Washington State Snowmobile Association, a group of about 2,300 registered members and their families.

"We always like to see good science prevailing."

3 posted on 12/31/2001 9:54:55 PM PST by jennyp
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To: jennyp
Agencies need to restore credibility

Thursday, December 20, 2001


It hardly matters whether it was simply a well-meant attempt to test the accuracy of laboratory DNA analysis or a dishonest attempt to place the Canadian lynx into forests where it has not been found.

The damage is the same. The perception that something dishonest was afoot is hard to counter even if that perception is wrong.

Efforts to manage wildlife under the already controversial Endangered Species Act have been hurt by the seven federal and state scientists who sent bogus lynx-hair samples to a lab. This stunt plays into the hands of those who oppose the ESA.

Even if, as claimed, the bogus hairs were not counted in the final reports on lynx presence in the Wenatchee and Gifford Pinchot national forests, it casts a discrediting shadow over legitimate scientific efforts to figure out where the animals live.

If the threatened animals do live in those two forests, it potentially could restrict some human activities in the lynx habitat, such as, say, snowmobiling or logging. But the hairs purported to have been found in those two forests instead came from captive lynx.

One Forest Service scientist, who claimed the planted hair had been clearly labeled and the lab informed, said two years of conflicting lab results prompted the move.

Just as ill advised as the scientists' submitting the bogus hairs without clearance from their supervisors is their supervisors' behavior in dealing with the hoax perpetrated by the perps: two U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service employees, two Washington state Department of Fish and Wildlife employees and three employees of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest.

They were "counseled" and removed from the lynx project and won't work on a lynx project again. But will they work on, say, a wolf or grizzly project?

The agencies plead that it's a "personnel matter" and thus names and punishments must be kept from the public. Au contraire.

Wrist-slapping is not how to restore public confidence in these agencies' efforts to learn where endangered wildlife lives. Some members of Congress want an investigation, and a full public airing may be the only way to restore confidence in the validity of the agencies' scientific data collection.

One Forest Service scientist, who claimed the planted hair had been clearly labeled and the lab informed, said two years of conflicting lab results prompted the move.

This seems to be the earliest mention that the biologists in question told their superiors and that the lab had also been told. Also it implies that they were put into the sample vials ("had been clearly labeled") and not placed on the scratching posts in the wild.

7 posted on 12/31/2001 10:05:22 PM PST by jennyp
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