Ron Arnold: Federally funded faked science behind Fish & Wildlife's Mousegate

“Government science” is an oxymoron like “military intelligence,” but the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service is the exemplar.

The FWS is arguably the most powerful agency in the federal government because it enforces the Endangered Species Act, which in turn is arguably omnipotent because it can stop any personal or business activity dead in its tracks – not excluding military operations – if a bug or weed is harmed. It can even trump the Constitution, especially the due process and just compensation clauses.

Complying with the ESA is a nightmare, as it covers “endangered” species and their habitats, as well as “threatened” species and habitats. It even stretches to surreal dimensions by also covering subspecies and “distinct population segments” and their habitats. It's Big Green's biggest club.

Power lust constantly pushes FWS officials to list as many species, subspecies and populations as possible. The more they list, the more power they have to prevent people from using their property or resources. Don't expect compensation, either, as they just take your rights, not your property or resources themselves.

Matthew Cronin, a University of Alaska research professor of animal genetics, explains the problem: “It is well established that the subspecies category is subjective and the 'distinct population segment' is basically a judgment call. Federal biologists and environmental groups use these terms to inappropriately put local populations of an otherwise abundant species in the ESA list.”

Cronin notes in Range magazine that he counts “70 percent of the ESA's listings of mammals in the United States are subspecies or populations.”

And former Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Interior Julie MacDonald said “it was my observation that many ESA listing and habitat decisions by Fish & Wildlife were made first and supporting information was identified later, with all contrary information ignored. Many decisions were based purely on opinion, rather than data, and the ESA requires data. But courts may not second guess agency decisions, so we get legally binding 'specious species' that don't live up to the statute's data requirements.”

Where does a regulatory agency run by political appointees find scientists willing to claim their subjective opinion is science? The FWS gets most of its science from U.S. Geological Survey biologists working in a closed loop: FWS gets science from USGS, USGS gets funded by FWS – which assures predetermined outcomes and no dissent. Interesting money trail, that, so where's Congress and the media?

The poster child for imaginary species is an innocent Rocky Mountain meadow-jumping mouse listed in 1998 by FWS as “threatened.” It had the undeserved prefix of “Preble's” tacked on by subspecies mongers (naturalist Edward A. Preble found the mouse in Colorado in 1899). FWS estimates their Preble's listing costs public and private landowners about $18 million a year.

Then came Rob Roy Ramey II, curator of vertebrate zoology at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, who did a thorough genetic study and found Preble's mouse was not a subspecies and should be delisted. Wrong answer. Ordinary meadow-jumping mice give FWS no power.

FWS regional official Ralph Morgenweck hired USGS geneticist Tim King – who allegedly has near-supernatural powers to detect subspecies where others can't – to get the preferred answer. King and his all-USGS team produced an elegant scientific paper that saved the listing.

Ramey and his team then discovered the King team had not replicated his work as they claimed, but rather switched things during the proofing process to make it appear they did. I'm just a layman, but does that look like honest science to you? It's definitely a scientific no-no, and Ramey et al. said so in a response paper that FWS ignored.

The “Preble's” mouse was subsequently delisted in Wyoming (but not Colorado), and FWS continues to insist it is a “valid subspecies” but has not published any of Ramey's documents, so I will do it for them. Go to <> and take a look at Mousegate.

By the way, Ramey's respect for the truth cost him his job, but he's now an esteemed consultant and researcher with an impeccable reputation.

Examiner Columnist Ron Arnold is executive vice president of the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise.

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