Skip to comments.Biologist denies tainting survey
Posted on 12/19/2001 9:30:09 AM PST by MadameAxe
A federal biologist yesterday denied any attempt to skew results of a survey for threatened wild lynx as outrage mounted in Congress over hair samples from captive cats sent to a lab.
The surveys are used by federal scientists looking for the presence of wild Canada lynx, a threatened species that came under federal protection in March 2000. In turn, the survey helps determine whether logging and wintertime motorized recreation should be restricted to protect the animals.
Two congressmen yesterday called for immediate termination of the seven employees involved, an investigation of the incident by the General Accounting Office and oversight hearings.
But a U.S. Forest Service employee involved in the decision to send in hair from a captive lynx said yesterday that the sample had been clearly labeled so it wouldn't be confused with samples from the survey.
Tom Kogut, a wildlife biologist in the Cowlitz Valley Ranger District of the Forest Service, said the lab and Forest Service officials were notified that hair from a captive animal had been sent to check the accuracy of the tests.
"I'm pretty upset about how this is being portrayed; it's being totally blown out of proportion," Kogut said. "This was never an attempt to falsify the survey results or put something in the forest that wasn't there."
Kogut said employees decided to check the accuracy of lab tests after two years of conflicting survey results.
The first year of the survey, samples from southern Washington and Oregon tested positive for lynx. The next year, a different lab was used and not a single sample from the same areas tested positive, Kogut said.
"You kind of scratch your head and say, 'What's going on?'
"There were indications from our regional office that there were problems with the first-year results, but there was nothing official."
The employees, who have not been identified, collected lynx hair from a chain-link fence at Northwest Trek, a wildlife park south of Puyallup near Eatonville, and sent it to the lab to see if it would be identified as lynx.
"There was no attempt to defraud,'' Kogut said. "It was perhaps bad judgment, but that was it. Our intent was honorable, and it seemed like a good idea at the time.
"We probably should have alerted more people to the fact that we were sending it in and gotten an official blessing or a sanction to do so. If we were to do it again we wouldn't, or we would do it as an official thing."
Kogut said the Forest Service employees were unaware that other employees surveying the Wenatchee National Forest had done the same thing. "What that shows me is a lot of people were concerned about the survey results," he said.
"It's just really unfortunate this has taken on a life it never deserved."
Some in Congress don't think so.
U.S. Reps. Scott McInnis, R-Colo., and Jim Hansen, R-Utah, plan oversight hearings before the House's Forests and Forest Health Subcommittee early next year.
"These offenses minimally amount to professional malfeasance of the highest order. ... Ultimately, the credibility of the lynx survey is now hanging by a thread," the two wrote in a letter to Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman and Interior Secretary Gale Norton.
McInnis is chairman of the Forests and Forest Health Subcommittee, and Hansen is chairman of the House Committee on Resources.
An outside investigator hired by the Forest Service in February concluded in June that three employees at the Gifford Pinchot National Forest in Southwest Washington were involved. Investigators also learned that two U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service employees and two state Department of Fish and Wildlife employees working in the Wenatchee National Forest sent in hair from captive cats.
None of the samples was included in regional survey results or the national lynx survey. All the remaining samples were determined to be legitimate, and the Forest Service is standing by the validity of the surveys, which began in 1998.
Not surprised after eight years of the sexual deviant in charge...exPOTUS42
Not surprised after eight years of the sexual deviant in charge...exPOTUS42
Nice try at changing the subject loser...
And where did the sample come from in the first place?
Who decided to include superfluous samples?
We need more names.
"If we were to do it again we wouldn't, or we would do it as an official thing."
He didn't enjoy it and he didn't inhale -- sound familiar?
I can't decide whether to attribute this incident to evil or mere incompetence. It's quite a coincidence that this happened in more than one district though.
1) We can see the influence of 8 years of Clintonism here on our govt employees. Basically, their response to being caught is to lie and self-righteously maintain that even if they DID lie, it was for a noble (read: liberal) cause.
2) My copy of the Constitution must have some pages missing...I can't find anywhere where it states that the federal govt should be conducting "lynx surveys".
If this is the case, then the person who initiated a needless investigation should be fired. How dare this person waste tax dollars challenging a survey whose results have been handled with absolute scientific integrity. Perhaps the accused employees will sue the government and we can pay some more.
Your copy must not include all those invisible penumbras they've been adding for the last hundred or more years. It's to promote the "general welfare", dontcha know...
This from a letter sent to Rep. James Hansen, Chair of the Committee on Resources, from Robert Hast, Managing Director of the Office of Special Investigations.
GAO-01-1018R Canadian Lynx Study
United States General Accounting Office
Washington, DC 20548
August 14, 2001
The Honorable James Hansen
Committee on Resources
House of Representatives
Subject: Accidental Contamination of Samples Used in Canadian Lynx Study Rendered the Studys Preliminary Conclusion Invalid
Dear Mr. Chairman:
This letter responds to your request that we investigate the results of a 1998 study concerning the Canadian lynx.The Forest Service contracted with Dr. John Weaver of the Wildlife Conservation Society in New York City to help conduct surveys for the Canadian lynx in the Cascade Mountain range of Washington and Oregon. In a March 1999 interim report, Dr. Weaver concluded that the Canadian lynx resides in certain forested portions of the states of Washington and Oregon. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service cited the 1999 interim reports preliminary data in the final rule it published in the Federal Register on the status of the Canadian lynx.1 In March 2000, the Fish and Wildlife Service placed the lynx on its list of threatened species, pursuant to the Endangered Species Act of 1973,2 in the forested portions of 13 states, including Washington and Oregon.
Dr. Weaver based his preliminary conclusion on the results of a deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) analysis of hair samples recovered in the Cascade Mountain range of Washington and Oregon. That analysis was conducted by the Science Resource Center of the Wildlife Conservation Society. Additional DNA analysis was performed on the same hair samples by the Wildlife Genetics International Laboratory in Canada, which questioned whether the samples had been contaminated. You asked us to (1) determine whether allegations that the study was deliberately falsified are accurate and (2) confirm that two laboratories reached different conclusions based on an analysis of the same samples.
We conducted our investigation between August 2000 and July 2001 in accordance with investigative standards established by the Presidents Council on Integrity and Efficiency. We interviewed Dr. John Weaver; Dr. George Amato, the Director of the 1 65 Federal Register16052. 2 16 U.S.C. § 1531 et. seq. GAO-01-1018R Canadian Lynx Study 2 Science Resource Center for the Wildlife Conservation Society3; and Dr. David Paetkau, the Senior Geneticist at the Wildlife Genetics International Laboratory. We also interviewed Fish and Wildlife Service field and headquarters personnel and Forest Service field officials. Furthermore, we reviewed relevant Fish and Wildlife Service and Forest Service documentation. The scope and validity of the data relied on by the Fish and Wildlife Service in reaching its decision to list the lynx as threatened in the states of Washington and Oregon under the Endangered Species Act are beyond the scope of this investigation.
In summary, we found no evidence that the study conducted by Dr. Weaver was deliberately falsified. In fact, the preliminary conclusion reported in the March 1999 interim report was based on hair samples that had been accidentally contaminated. In September 2000, Dr. Weaver had the original hair samples submitted to the Wildlife Genetics International Laboratory for additional analysis. That analysis questioned whether the samples used in the study had been accidentally contaminated, which raised questions about the conclusion in the interim report. Dr. Weaver notified the Forest Service of the results of the second analysis, and in a letter to cognizant Forest Service supervisors and biologists characterized the Canadian lynx locations reported in the March 1999 interim reportthe states of Washington and Oregonas unverified. During our investigation, Dr. Weaver issued a final report in June 2001, which concluded that samples relied upon in the March 1999 interim report were contaminated. In a June 2001 letter to us, the Fish and Wildlife Service said that the interim report had no bearing on its final decision to list the Canadian lynx as a threatened species in Washington and Oregon.
A Second Laboratorys Analysis Determined that Samples Used in the Canadian Lynx Study Were Accidentally Contaminated In 1998, the Forest Service contracted with Dr. Weaver to assist in the design, implementation, and analysis of a Canadian lynx survey in the Cascade Mountain range of Washington and Oregon. The surveys were an attempt to obtain information about the lynx populations in those states. Forest Service biologists and technicians collected hair samples from sites in Washington and Oregon and sent the samples to Dr. Weaver. Dr. Weaver then sent the samples to the Wildlife Conservation Societys Science Resource Center for DNA analysis. The laboratorys DNA analysis identified hair samples from nine collection sites in Washington and five sites in Oregon as being from the Canadian lynx. Dr. Weaver told both the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Forest Service of his preliminary findings, which were based on the laboratory analysis. He provided a written interim report, titled Lynx Surveys in the Cascade Range: Washington and Oregon, with those same results to the Forest Service in March 1999. The interim report named Dr. Weaver and Dr. Amato, the Director of the Science Resource Center, as co-authors.
On March 24, 2000, the Fish and Wildlife Service published its final rulea determination that the existence of the Canadian lynx is threatened in 13 states, including Washington and Oregonin the Federal Register. The final rule includes available data on the Canadian lynx, including its habitat and historical residence in 3 Dr. Amato, who was identified as a co-author of both the interim and final reports, said he was not aware that his name had been associated with the interim report. GAO-01-1018R Canadian Lynx Study 3 various states and regions of the United States over the last 100 years or more and refers to Dr. Weavers interim report as preliminary data presented for the states of Washington and Oregon. Dr. Weaver told us that after he provided his interim report to the Forest Service in March 1999, a Forest Service colleague told him that some doubt had arisen within the agency about the existence of the Canadian lynx in Oregon. As a result, Dr. Weaver asked the Science Resource Center to send its samples to the Wildlife Genetics International Laboratory in Edmonton, Alberta. The laboratorys Senior Geneticist, Dr. Paetkau, said the laboratory received Dr. Weavers samples on September 2, 2000, and provided the results to him by telephone on September 19, 2000. The Canadian laboratorys DNA analysis of the hair samples identified all of them as being hair from the Canadian lynx. However, the Canadian laboratory noted that the DNA signal was stronger than would normally be expected from hair samples and raised questions about whether the samples had been contaminated. In response, Dr. Weaver sent the portions of the original samples he had retained to the Canadian laboratory, without informing the laboratory of the samples origin. The laboratorys DNA analysis identified the samples as cougar and bobcat, rather than lynx. Dr. Weaver concluded that the samples that were initially sent to the Science Resource Center must have become accidentally contaminated at that laboratory. The Centers director, Dr. Amato, disagreed that contamination actually occurred at his laboratory, but he acknowledged that it could have happened.
Dr. Weaver told us that he notified the Forest Service and the Fish and Wildlife Service of the different DNA results in approximately September 2000. Based on that notification, the Forest Service issued a letter to its Forest Supervisors and Wildlife Biologists in the Pacific Northwest. The letter said that the Forest Service considered the Canadian lynx locations reported in the March 1999 interim reportthe states of Washington and Oregonto be unverified. The letter also stated that a survey was currently being conducted for Canadian lynx in Washington and Oregon and that so far, lynx had only been detected in several locations in Washington. A Forest Service official told us that the agency would not use Dr. Weavers 1998 study data in any management documents. In a June 1, 2001, letter to us, the Fish and Wildlife Service said Dr. Weavers study had no bearing on its decision to list the Canadian lynx as threatened.
On June 26, 2001, Dr. Weaver told us that Dr. Paetkau of the Canadian laboratory performed additional DNA analyses of the hair samples it received from the Science Resource Center. Dr. Paetkau said the laboratory performed the analysis on May 16, 2001, and provided the results to Dr. Weaver the following day. He said the results showed that all but one of the samples came from the same lynx, which in Dr. Weavers opinion provided further evidence that the samples had become contaminated. Dr. Weaver said that the Canadian laboratory had also analyzed hair samples from a lynx he had kept captive until approximately 1997 and that its DNA was different from the DNA samples received from the Science Resource Center. The June 2001 final report to the Forest Service concluded that the hair samples on which the March 1999 interim findings were based were contaminated.
Concerning the DNA analysis, Dr. Amato said he had received numerous hair samples from Dr. Weaver for DNA analysis and that each sample was routinely identified when the laboratory received them. Dr. Amato said that had he known that Dr. Weaver intended to present the results of the analysis to the Forest Service as evidence of the presence of Canadian lynx, he would have used different protocols. Dr. Paetkau told us that in general, (1) laboratories that perform the same type of analysis in a very rigorous manner, such as Canadas Wildlife Genetics International Laboratory, are concerned about following certain protocols and (2) academic laboratories, such as the Science Resource Center laboratory, focus on using information in a new way and are less concerned about certain protocols.
Agency Comments The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Forest Service provided comments on a draft of this letter, in which they concurred with the letter and its findings.
- - - - -
As arranged with your office, unless you announce its contents earlier, we plan no further distribution of this letter until 30 days after the date of the letter. At that time, we will send copies to interested congressional committees and the Secretaries of Agriculture and the Interior. We will also make copies available to others on request. The letter will also be available at www.gao.gov. If you have any questions about this investigation, please call me at (202) 512-7455 or Assistant Director Patrick Sullivan at (202) 512-6722. Senior Special Agent Woodrow Hunt, Senior Analyst Shelia James, and Senior Attorney Barry Shillito made significant contributions to this investigation and letter.
Robert H. Hast
Office of Special Investigations
Yea, there were 'problems' alright, like the whole thing was a fraud!
We must flood them with letters and faxes to demand that the Lynx be de-listed.
How can a sample of hair be 'accidentally contaminated'?
SO THAT MEANS .... That they had already decided to "declare" the lynx as "threatened" in Washington and Oregon based on "historical" populations (where it USED to live (maybe)) and made that decision (to cordone of huge parts of Oregon and Washington REGARDLESS of whether they found lynx in the region or not.
The rest (questions of authorship, repeated "samples" of the same hair, rechecking basic data and basic conclusions.... the lab making the OJ "cross-contamination" bad excuses, etc.) means that lab data was deliberately falsified (several times....) and the other scientists knew it.