House Resource Committee Probes Contaminated Lynx Study

Posted on March 22, 2002

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On March 6, the House Resources Committee, Chaired by U.S. Representative James Hansen (R-Utah), heard testimony on the scandal surrounding the National Lynx Study—a study tainted by officials from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Forest Service, and Washington State`s Department of Fish & Wildlife when they were reported to have planted evidence. The study—which could impact 15 states and 57 national parks—seeks to determine whether there are populations of Canada Lynx living in the United States and whether they should be protected under the Endangered Species Act.

The controversy centers around three hair samples clipped from a captured lynx that were planted in three separate areas of the study area within Washington State. Two of the areas had never been known to have a lynx population. These samples were then submitted to the lab at the University of Montana as study data for DNA testing. When questioned as to why they planted these illegitimate samples, the biologists involved claimed that they did not trust the lab, and that they were simply "testing" the facility. The University`s lab director indicated that there was no justification for the biologists to "test" his lab or his methodology.

But while federal studies often have protocols that allow for blind testing of labs, the researchers did not follow what the National Lynx Study had proscribed for testing lab methodology. Furthermore, while the researchers claimed they intended to tell the lab of the false samples, the lab was never notified, and the study did not provide a vehicle or opportunity for such notification. Once the false samples were delivered to the lab and confirmed to be lynx hairs, those samples would become a part of the survey. We may never know the true motivation of the researchers, or their true intentions, but we do know their questionable actions were not brought to light until one scientist involved reported this information to a superior the day before his retirement.

U.S. Representative Scott McInnis (R-Colo.) was the standard-bearer for scientific integrity during the hearings, but several lawmakers weighed in to try to determine what may have led researchers to act so outrageously. U.S. Representative Greg Waldon (R-Ore.) likened the actions of the biologists to that of a U.S. Congressman who, after being caught accepting bribes from undercover FBI agents during the ABSCAM investigation begun in the late 70s, claimed he was conducting his own private "study." Rep. McInnis was just as harsh, comparing what the researchers did to a corrupt police officer who plants evidence in order to secure a conviction.

While the study will continue, and has been adjusted to account for the fraudulent samples, the reckless and possibly criminal actions of these scientists could have jeopardized the public use of millions of acres of land in the northern United States. NRA applauds the actions of the Resource Committee thus far, and NRA-ILA Executive Director James Jay Baker sent a letter of thanks to Reps. Hansen and McInnis for leading this effort. Baker also expressed NRA`s support for punishing those involved with creating this controversy, writing, "We...support you in your efforts to ensure that punishment of the researchers is commensurate with their actions. Appropriate punishment of those involved will send a clear message that the federal government cannot and will not tolerate irresponsible behavior, especially when the public use of our nation`s natural resources hangs in the balance." We will be sure to report any additional developments on this front, and we anticipate that there could be additional hearings still to come.

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