Overview - Endangered Species

Though many try to deny it, the human race is not self supporting. We depend on the biosphere out planet supports for our air, our food, our water, and other things necessary for our survival. This biosphere is not indestructible, and few things reveal how sensitive this biosphere is than the way our activities impact other creatures that also dependent on it. Most conservation biologists today agree that the earth is currently experiencing an extinction trend that has few precedents in its history. While this is not the first "mass extinction" trend the earth has experienced in its long history, it is unlike any other in that it is happening for reasons that are largely unrelated to natural events, and over a time frame that is virtually a nanosecond like instant of earth history compared to its predecessors.

One of the most important factors driving this extinction trend is habitat destruction. Creatures like salmon and steelhead, the Canada lynx, and other magnificent creatures are integral parts of the ecosystem balance in the regions where they are found. When the rivers, forests, or wetlands where they live and feed are destroyed—for houses, parking lots, shopping malls, or even when someone who lives next to a fish bearing stream insists on maintaining a green, over-fertilized lawn, the fish and wildlife that depend on these habitats have few choices. Protecting these creatures requires protecting the land, streams, and air that sustains them. Among other things, this entails thoughtful, responsible land use and life choices that aren't dependent on profligate consumption.

More often than not, these priorities are at odds with Far-Right interests. Generally speaking, Far-Right worldviews are rooted in “freedom” and “prosperity.” Though many of them would deny it, “freedom” in this sense ultimately boils down to a lack of constraint on personal choice, and “prosperity” to material prosperity (as measured by economic growth and high harvest levels). Those with such values seldom care about the well-being of the natural world apart from its material usefulness to them. Whether they're filling their freezers with trout, dredging up critical wetlands or dumping toxic waste into a stream on their property, they ultimately want to be left alone to pursue their own interests and resent any and all social constraints on their activities—fish and game bag limits, environmental or public health laws—anything intended to insure accountability to the community for the impact of their actions on others.

So it's no surprise that the Far-Right opposes protections for endangered species and has made gutting the Endangered Species Act a top priority. As in so many other arenas to which these interests address themselves, their war effort seldom makes use of science or any discussions of the larger good of society outside of their own circles. While an examination of the values and arguments of these groups is revealing, nothing tells the story like their track record with real endangered species related issues - a record that at its worst, is filled with hysteria, confrontation, attempts to make end-runs around the due process of law, and an almost total lack of familiarity with the relevant science.

The 'Lynxgate' Scandal

The fall 2001 "Lynxgate" scandal is a telling example. The Canada Lynx (Lynx Canadensis) is a boreal forest feline predator that once thrived across the North American continent. Today, largely because of the impact of timber harvests, development and human recreational activity on its habitat and food chain, it is listed as Threatened under the Endangered Species Act. However, a lack of quality data regarding its current range and numbers has hampered recovery efforts. In 1999 a multi-agency multi-year project called National Canada Lynx Survey, lead by the U.S. Forest Service, was begun to address this problem.

In the spring of 2001 it was discovered that several of the survey's field workers participating in data collection in Washington State’s Wenatchee and Gifford Pinchot National Forests had submitted some false hair samples to the Missoula, MT based lab that was conducting DNA analysis for it—supposedly to blind test the lab’s protocols. This was done outside of the survey's authorized procedures and when the USFS learned of this activity, they contracted outside consultants to investigate. The samples in question were immediately removed from the survey database and were never included in its results. The investigation concluded that the incident was an unjustified attempt to test lab protocols without proper authorization and though disciplinary action was deemed warranted, no evidence was found of any conspiracy to skew the survey. At its conclusion, the individuals involved were barred from further participation in it.

The following December (six months after this investigation), in what came to be known as the “Lynxgate” controversy, the ultra-conservative Washington Times newspaper ran a story alleging a deliberate “hoax” by the USFS to slant the survey toward an undisclosed “liberal” agenda—claims which they said were based on the private testimony of a “whistle blower” within the USFS who approached the Times with the charges. The story contained numerous factual errors, and beyond that consisted almost entirely of innuendos and ad-hominem attacks. The identity of the whistle blower was never made public by the WT, nor was any of the evidence the story was allegedly based on.

Throughout the winter of 2001/2002, the WT ran other stories following the controversy but there appears to have been little or no further attempt on their part to investigate any of the factual details surrounding it or the larger lynx survey. But despite these errors and the poor quality of their research, the story became a lightning rod for antienvironmental passion. Cries of “hoax”, “liberal agendas” and “bad science” filled ultra-conservative forums nationwide and a Congressional investigation into the incident was launched.

As of April 2002, no evidence of any hoax was turned up by this or any other investigation. Today, apart from the occasional shrill innuendo in ultra-conservative forums, the controversy has largely died out. This page includes a letter by me that was sent to members of Congress (including Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell in my own home state of Washington) and the Washington State Legislature in early 2002. In it, I present the history of the Lynxgate incident and the National Canada Lynx Survey, and describe the poor reasoning and amateurish scholarship present in nearly every ultra-conservative investigation of this incident.


Page:      1      
The Far-Right
Issues & Policy
Endangered Species
Property Rights & 'Wise Use'
DDT & Malaria
Terrorism Policy
Neoconservative Media
Christianity & the Environment
Climate Change
Global Warming Skeptics
The Web of Life
Managing Our Impact
Caring for our Communities
Ted Williams Archive