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August 5, 2007  Colorado Springs Gazette
Fur should fly
Lamborn, Allard on the mouse’s case

Democrats didn’t get the big bang they were hoping for from a House Natural Resources Committee hearing Tuesday — the latest in a series aimed at nailing Bush administration officials for allegedly politicizing endangered species decisions.

The inquisitors were hoping for a smoking gun linking Vice President Dick Cheney to the die-off of salmon in Oregon’s Klamath River, stemming from a water dispute in 2001, which was the focus of a recent expose (read: hit piece) by The Washington Post. But no damning revelations were produced by the dogs and ponies paraded before the committee. That’s why the event didn’t get much press.
But one matter of local and regional interest was raised.

Rep. Doug Lamborn placed into the record a six-page letter from Sen. Wayne Allard to Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne, claiming that the regional office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is conspiring to keep the Preble’s meadow jumping mouse from being de-listed, through a selective interpretation of science and an effort to discredit Rob Roy Ramey, the conservation biologist whose DNA and morphological analysis refuted the rodent’s status as a subspecies. (We wrote about Allard’s allegations in detail Wednesday). Lamborn pressed USFWS Director H. Dale Hall to investigate these allegations, as Hall tries to make good on his pledge to safeguard the integrity of science at the agency.

This followed by less than a week a request by Lamborn for a full briefing from Kempthorne on the situation inside USFWS, where a decision on de-listing the mouse has repeatedly been delayed. We’re glad someone is holding the agency’s feet to the fire, given the costs and property-rights impacts this fiasco has had on people living in mouse habitat.

The credibility of endangered species science, and the suspicion that agency insiders might be finessing outcomes to suit their personal or ideological agendas, dates back to at least 2001, when federal biologists were caught planting samples of lynx fur in Washington state, suggesting the presence of animals that weren’t actually there. Sounds were made at the time about shoring up agency science. But Ramey’s work, along with these latest revelations, raise new doubts and suspicions.

Lamborn also had testimony from Ramey placed into the record, which echoed many of Allard’s allegations and cited other cases in which endangered species decisions were based on dubious science. We detailed some of Ramey’s allegations Wednesday.

If the committee and the agency are serious about ferreting out slanted science, Lamborn said, the public also needs to know whether agency insiders, outside academics and environmental groups are unduly influencing decisions. “What we are talking about today involves transparency,” Lamborn said. “My colleagues on the other side of the aisle are questioning decisions that were made (by the Bush administration) and that is fine, but if they are serious about transparency, and not just using this hearing as an opportunity to score political points, then they will join me in calling for all information regarding this process to see the light of day.”

Hall gave Lamborn assurances that there would be a comprehensive review of the Preble’s mouse process, including Allard’s and Ramey’s allegations. We’ll be watching closely to see that there is.

We appreciate the initiative Allard and Lamborn are showing on this always contentious issue. Daring to question the Endangered Species Act, or the sometimes shoddy science underpinning it, is guaranteed to make one a target for those who misuse the law to boost their regulatory power and anti-development agendas — as Ramey found out.

Those who live in or near mouse habitat — those who have incurred costs and had property rights impacted as a result of this listing — are entitled to a thorough and independent investigation of the Allard and Ramey allegations. Something’s rotten inside USFWS, it seems. And if Kempthorne, Hall and agency personnel really want to clear away the strong whiff of scandal, some fur should fly inside the agency.
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