Missing Lynx: Are Animals More Important Than People?

August 2, 2002

Commentary By John Stossel John.F.Stossel@abc.com  Message Boards: http://boards.abcnews.go.com/cgi/abcnews/request.dll?LIST&room=stossel

"We need water! We need water!" That's the refrain from farmers up in Klamath Falls, Ore. Their fields have dried up, and some farmers have even lost their farms all because of a fish known as the short-nosed sucker.

There's a lake full of water in Klamath Falls, but last year the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ordered the irrigation gates from the lake closed meaning 1,000 farmers could not water their crops.

The agency's bureaucrats closed the gates because the short-nosed sucker, one of the fish found in the lake, is listed as endangered. There are lots of sucker fish in America, but the bureaucrats decided this species of suckers needed protection. They said keeping a certain amount of water in the lake was critical to the suckers' survival.

"They're stealing these people's land. It's not right," said one man at a protest rally last summer. "Give 'em their water back! You're destroying lives here!"

The farmers' neighbors came to their aid. Breaking the law, they jumped a fence and opened the floodgates.

Then the police came and stood watch while the bureaucrats closed the gates again. The police stayed all summer guarding the valves.

"They are destroying 1,400 families over a fish that is not really even in trouble out here," said another man at the protest.

Not even in trouble? Well, oops, it turns out that as far as water levels go, that's true. The National Research Council now says the sucker didn't need as much water as the government environmentalists claimed. The farmers could have had some of their precious water.

So did Fish and Wildlife apologize to the farmers? No. The farmers say government's biologists don't seem very concerned about people.

"This country has placed more value upon a fish than on its own citizens," said farmer Stan Thompson.

Lynx Study Irks Locals

Really? Government wildlife experts would value animals over humans? Maybe. After all, look what they did with the Canada lynx. The lynx is an explosive issue. An environmental group even burned down a ski lodge in Vail because they thought it might threaten the lynx.

There are tens of thousands of these adorable animals throughout North America, but because the bureaucrats weren't sure there were any of them in southern Washington state, they commissioned $1 million study to find out.

To try to lure the lynx they hung shiny pans from trees. They placed pieces of carpet soaked with a catnip mixture on the trees, hoping the lynx would then rub up against them and leave some fur. Sure enough, the samples the biologists sent to the lab contained hairs from a Canada Lynx.

Finding a threatened species can set in motion a series of events that can wreck your life if you're a rancher or farmer, and spoil a vacation if you're someone who wants to drive into the woods. "Area closed" can be the result when endangered species are found. Ranchers worried that the lynx could do to them what the sucker fish did to the farmers in Klamath Falls.

"It would have definitely jeopardized my family operation, put us out of business," said one Washington rancher, Neil Kaiser.

Lots of people in southern Washington are scared of the government's environmental police.

"We basically say if you have an endangered species in your area, we are going to take your livelihood away, we're going to destroy your communities, and we're going to make it very difficult for your families to survive," said Mike Paulson, a local land rights activist.

That didn't happen in this case because it turned out the government's biologist faked the tests. The lynx hair sent to the lab came from a lynx who lived in a cage at a tourist attraction where people pay $8 to see animals miles away from where the biologists claimed they found the hair.

"The only reason that this came to light is because a retiring employee ... blew the whistle," said Jim Beers, a retired biologist who was with the Department of Fish and Wildlife for 30 years. Beers says he's seen his agency change from promoting science to pushing fanatical environmentalism.

"The agencies today are staffed with environmental radical activists," he told me, adding that these activists do not want people to use the forests.

Keeping Forests Clear of People

Beers says that one way to keep the forest free of people is to find endangered species.

"Once you establish that there are any lynx in the area and you say there were some lynx over in this area or there, the areas in between suddenly become very urgent to not allow the road to be built, not allow the ski slope to come in ... not allow grazing ... ultimately, not to let you or I drive our wives and kids in for a picnic," Beers said.

The government agencies involved wouldn't talk to us about any of this, but they do call the conduct of the biologists "unacceptable" and "not authorized."

That sounds serious. So were the biologists then fired? No. When do governments fire anybody? The biologists were verbally counseled; they still have jobs.

The biologists also have an explanation; they say they weren't trying to cheat, they were just testing the labs to make sure they could identify lynx fur. The locals don't buy that.

"That's not even a good excuse," said Barbara Paulson, Mike Paulson's wife and a writer for the Franklin County Graphic in southeastern Washington. "They should think of something better than that."

"It's not a mistake. It's dishonesty," said Mike Paulson.

Beers doesn't buy it either.

"That's the same as you telling me that you caught them walking out of the bank with money and they said, 'Oh, we were just seeing if the system works here, we were going to return it tomorrow,'" he said.

It makes me wonder what other parts of their science we don't know the truth about.

When extremists get to give orders with the power of government, then everyone's freedom is at risk. Give me a break.