Lynx to reality

Remember the great Canadian lynx hair controversy? That story sprang up last year when the Washington Times reported scientists studying the populations of the Canadian lynx in Washington state and Oregon in the late 1990s had planted evidence of the threatened animal’s existence on federal lands. The Times suggested a great conspiracy on the part of the scientists to put such lands off limits to human use. It was further proof, conservatives across the nation brayed, that the Endangered Species Act was a flawed document and a dangerous tool in the hands of extreme environmentalists. However, an investigation by the General Accounting Office “found no evidence that the study conducted by Doctor [John] Weaver was deliberately falsified.”

Weaver was hired by the Forest Service in 1998 to conduct surveys on the lynx in the Cascade Mountains. Hair samples found on a fence in the range had been collected and sent to laboratories for analysis to see if they came from the lynx. If they had, land-use restriction would be triggered as provided by the ESA. Initial tests indicated they were lynx hairs. But it turned out there had been some miscommunication between the scientist and the laboratories. That’s what the Times got hold of. But the GAO investigation concluded there was no conspiracy to defraud, just honest mistakes. What’s more, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said Weaver’s initial findings had no bearing on the decision to list the Canadian lynx as a threatened species in Washington and Oregon.

Unfortunately, that episode sparked a cry across the land to revisit and even gut the ESA. The explanation of what happened according to the GAO investigation was lost in the emotional outcry and demand for the heads of environmentalists. And it still hasn’t died down. This week I got a press release from Rep. Wally Herger‘s office that was headlined: “Herger calls lynx fraud the most recent assault on the environment by radical groups.” “Time and again our communities are put in harm’s way because of the flagrant abuse of the ESA,” Herger says in the release. “The Canadian lynx mess shows us the lengths to which the extremists will go to lock up land and prevent good forest management.”

While the ESA could stand to be revisited and revised, let’s not use misinformation on either side as an excuse to throw the act out completely, as Herger does when he argues that the ESA threatens “the very species that the ESA aims to protect. In the hands of radical groups, the ESA has been used to promote a dangerous political agenda that would prohibit sound forest management and limit the use of private property by landowners.”

Speaking of confusing statements, I recently got a dilly from a government lobbying group called the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste. You’d think that with such a name this organization would favor conservation over conspicuous consumption. Not true. Listen to this: “CCAGW opposes the increase in Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards to a combined average of at least 35 mpg for passenger cars and light trucks.” Turns out CCAGW thinks “CAFE does not work as intended and is too costly.” The government is sticking its nose in where it does not belong, the group is saying. “Americans want and need their SUVs,” it states. “To wean America off of foreign [oil] markets,” it goes on, “CCAGW supports more oil drilling in the United States, especially in the Artic National Wildlife Refuge.”

Somebody’s gotta do it. Add Councilmember Steve Bertagna's name to the list of local government representatives in the real estate business. More precisely, he is now working as a loan agent for Chico Valley Mortgage. I saw his photo in an ad in the North Valley Real Estate Guide. I called and left him a message at the new job, pretending I wanted a loan for a new house. I thought he’d be angry because our paper didn’t endorse him for supervisor—but he’s above that. Instead, he called me back and left a message. Then I tried to call him again at his business, All Around Mobile Sound. He wasn’t in. I asked the guy who answered if Bertagna would be working the next morning. "I hope so," he said.