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Thursday, February 7, 2002 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Report says false samples didn't taint lynx survey

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SPOKANE — A U.S. Forest Service investigation into misleading hair samples sent to a laboratory concludes the action did not undermine a rare-lynx survey, The Spokesman-Review reported yesterday.

The newspaper obtained the report, which was completed for the Forest Service by Stephanie Lynch, an independent investigator from Portland.

The scientists had wanted to test the University of Montana lab to see whether its DNA work was accurate.

The biologists who submitted the six false samples were from the Washington state Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Forest Service, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Their identities have not been released. They were "counseled" and removed from future lynx studies.

The survey was to establish the range of the Canada lynx, which was added to the endangered-species list in 2000. Its range must be known before the government can try to protect it.

For the past three summers, more than 500 scientists in 12 states have monitored 13,000 scented pads left in the woods. The animals rub the pads and leave fur behind on protruding carpet nails.

So far, lynx have been found in the Okanogan National Forest but none in areas where they're unexpected, said Scott Mills, co-leader of the survey.

Critics of the federal Endangered Species Act have questioned whether the scientists were trying to show lynx have a large range. That could lead to broad restrictions on logging and recreational activities thought to harm the cats' habitat.

But finding lynx fur in an unexpected spot would only launch other efforts — live trapping, for example — to verify the cats' existence, Mills said.

Since disclosed in December, the case has been the subject of intense coverage. Congressional hearings are planned this month.

The Forest Service report indicates that rather than being secretive, the scientists told some colleagues they were submitting "control samples" to test the lab.

Some mentioned using fur from captive lynx in their field notes, indicating they weren't worried that someone might learn of their actions.

Mills said the seven scientists are guilty of "fabricating data." While it might not have been their intent, he said, there was potential to taint the study.

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