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Fishing Expeditions

What do Karl Marx, Bill Clinton, Enron's management, and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service have in common?

2.10.02

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Quiz. What do Karl Marx, Bill Clinton, Enron's management, and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service have in common?

Answer: They all believe the end justifies the means.

Marx said the end justified the means any time it was in the service of his promised workers' paradise. Today, he's dust and so is Marxism -- except on some U.S. college campuses. Bill Clinton's view was that anything was okay so long as it got him elected and kept him there. The pervasive sleaze of the Clinton White House is now well known. Enron's greedy managers said and did anything to keep up the price of their stock. Deceit became a way of life. Now the details of that are all over the media, all day, every day.

That leaves the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, a unit of the Department of the Interior. How did they honor the old philosopher's amoral dictum? By twisting science to serve their end of putting animals and fish ahead of human beings. Misanthropy is not exactly new among environmentalists, but it can be devastating when practiced by people who make rules and affect policy.

Last December, two officials of the USFWS apparently conspired with three from the U.S. Forest Service and two from the Washington State Fish & Wildlife Department to skew a study of lynx habitats in Washington by planting three false lynx fur samples on rubbing posts. Had they succeeded they would have proved that the habitat was much larger than had been supposed.

A lot was at stake. If the study were to prove that there were more lynx in a larger area than expected, the Endangered Species Act would have kicked in to formally expand their habitat. This would have resulted in road closings in national forests and eliminated mixed uses such as tree thinning, grazing, skiing, and snowshoeing.

Lab workers, charged with testing the DNA of lynx fur samples, became suspicious. It turned out that none of the samples delivered to them were from wild lynx. Two came from an animal in a preserve and a third was from an escaped lynx being held for its owner.

A colleague exposed the government biologists who had planted the false lynx-fur samples. The falsifiers insisted they weren't trying to manipulate the study in order to expand the lynx habitat. Oh no, they planted the fake samples in order to verify the accuracy of the lab's DNA analysis procedures. Sure.

"If that was the case," wrote two senators in a letter calling for investigative hearings, "it remains unexplained why field biologists would have spread the tainted sample on scratch pads out in the forest. Thus many...in the public don't believe the biologists' cover story."

While the federal bureaucrats brazened it out, at least the Washington state official in charge had the grace to apologize. Jeffrey Koenings, director of the state's Fish and Wildlife Department, said, "I owe the public an apology....the behavior of these biologists is not only extremely embarrassing, but unprofessional and cannot be tolerated."

Not only has this end-justifies-the-means behavior been tolerated at the federal level, but we now also learn that a ruling which devastated farm families in the Klamath Basin of Oregon was based on hasty judgment and faulty science -- in the service of a fish!

Last April, the same U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service issued a ruling cutting off water for crop irrigation in the Klamath Basin. This was in the midst of a drought. They claimed the water was needed for the survival of the sucker fish in Klamath Lake.

With a double whammy of drought and a water cut-off, the farmers' crop lands turned to dust. Several times they took matters into their own hands and opened the federal water valves. For many, however, it was too late. A number of farmers lost their land, and their equipment was auctioned off.

Now comes the National Academy of Sciences with a detailed report that concludes there was "no substantial scientific foundation" for the no-more-water-for-farms ruling. It found that the data the bureaucrats used to make their draconian decision "have not shown a clear connection between water level in the Upper Klamath Lake and conditions that are adverse to the welfare of suckers." Indeed, the NAS said that the best year ever for sucker survival was a low-water year. This can partly be explained by the fact the sucker is a bottom feeder, a fact that seems to have escaped the biologists of the USFWS.

Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton promises a careful evaluation of the NAS critique and has appointed a new director of the Fish & Wildlife Service. That's a start. What is needed, however, is an end to the pattern of bureaucrats putting advocacy ahead of science. Those who perpetrated the lynx fur fraud should be fired, not "counseled" as was done. Those who ruined the lives of farm families as a result of hasty decisions should no longer be entrusted with policy decisions. It's clear; it's simple; but will it happen? Don't hold your breath.

Peter Hannaford's column appears every Monday.

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