Magazine article Insight on the News

`Biofraud' Angers Westerners: Loggers and Miners in the Pacific Northwest Have Had Their Suspicions Confirmed by New Evidence of Government Agencies Manipulating Data and Skewering Research. (Environment)

Magazine article Insight on the News

`Biofraud' Angers Westerners: Loggers and Miners in the Pacific Northwest Have Had Their Suspicions Confirmed by New Evidence of Government Agencies Manipulating Data and Skewering Research. (Environment)

Article excerpt

The admission that employees of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Forest Service and Washington state falsified data confirms what many rural Westerners believe: Agencies doctor species and habitat studies to stop logging, ranching and mining on the federal government's vast land holdings. The news came as no surprise to Donna Thornton. A third-generation logger who runs a small family timber operation in Kalispell, Mont., Thornton claims the government's pro-environmental bias has been obvious for years.

"People here aren't shocked in the least," Thornton says. "People in the West have known for a long time that the Forest Service isn't a scientifically ethical organization anymore."

"It's `suspicions confirmed' that a lot of this data is manhandled and cooked up," said William Perry Pendley, president of the Mountain States Legal Foundation in Denver. "It's also one more arrow in the quiver for people in the West who are against the use of endangered species to shut down economic activity."

The revelation that government employees were caught planting Canadian lynx hairs during a study of the wildcat's habitat, reported last month in the Washington Times, also has stoked the long-simmering feud between rural Westerners and the Eastern establishment known as the "War on the West." "This has spread like wildfire," says Bruce Vincent, president of Communities for a Great Northwest in Libby, Mont. "It inflames an already-inflamed issue."

At stake is access to federally managed property, which accounts for more than 85 percent of the land in some Western counties. Rural Westerners say the government, prodded by environmental groups, is strangling their economy by cutting off access to the land. Environmentalists argue that the restrictions are needed to protect endangered and threatened species such as the lynx. The lynx survey, which several federal agencies are investigating, would have been used to establish land-use rules in 16 states and 57 national forests.

Endangered-species arguments often have resulted in cooperation from rural Westerners, who have been willing in the past to take an economic hit to save an animal on the brink of extinction. But evidence of "biofraud" in the lynx case likely will end that spirit of goodwill. "We've worked in good faith with the Forest Service, and to find this out puts the entire process in question," Vincent says. "It's going to do unbelievable damage to processes all over the West, where the local people are told to sit down and participate in the recovery of an endangered species. …

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