Wolf Scientist Vindicated in Legislator’s Attack
Professor Still under Siege as WSU Seeks Ways to Accommodate Ranchers
Washington, DC — An attempt by Republican legislators to tarnish the research of Washington State’s leading wolf expert was rejected as groundless, according to documents posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). That scientist, however, is still the subject of a politically-motivated harassment campaign by administrators at Washington State University, who are seeking other ways to appease these legislators and the ranching interests they represent.
In late 2014, Professor Robert Wielgus, Director of WSU’s Large Carnivore Conservation Laboratory, published the largest peer-reviewed scientific study on wolf depredations in a prestigious scientific journal. This study, which looked at 25 years of data, found that lethal removal of wolves did not reduce, and in many cases even increased, predation of livestock in Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming. After publication of the paper (“Effects of Wolf Mortality on Livestock Depredations”), Representative Joel Kretz, on behalf of the state’s livestock lobby, contacted then-WSU President Elson Floyd, threatened WSU, and demanded that Dr. Wielgus be fired or silenced. President Floyd rebuffed that pressure.
This March, Rep. Kretz and Senator Mark Schoesler met again with WSU officials, this time to lodge a scientific misconduct complaint against Dr. Wielgus, saying that he misinterpreted his data in the 2014 paper. Kretz wrote: “I am not a mathematician but shouldn’t those two lines be closer together?”
In a letter to the legislators dated May 29, 2017, WSU Vice President for Research Christopher Keane indicated after a review by a statistics professor “There is no evidence of research misconduct in this matter. Accordingly, the University has not opened a research misconduct investigation.”
“We are once again pleased that Dr. Wielgus and his scientific findings have been vindicated, but are disturbed by these politically motivated attempts to censor academic studies and discredit researchers,” stated PEER Counsel Adam Carlesco who is representing Dr. Wielgus, noting Kretz could not even articulate precisely what he thought was wrong in the PhD’s paper published in a prestigious peer-reviewed journal. “Unfortunately, the current WSU leadership is not supporting its own faculty and is improperly caving to political pressure.”
Dr. Wielgus became a lightning rod last summer, when he documented how a rancher released cattle near the den of the Profanity Peak wolf pack and placed salt blocks (around which cattle congregate) within 200 meters of the den. Predictably, within days, the Profanity Peak pack began killing cattle. The state game agency responded by killing seven members of this pack.
When Dr. Wielgus reported his findings and repeated them in the press, university officials, under legislative pressure, threatened disciplinary action against Dr. Wielgus, issued official statements erroneously attacking his credibility, and imposed restrictions both on his ability to further publish research and his use of grant funds, including denying him reimbursement for research-related expenses.
Meanwhile, documents obtained by PEER under the state Public Records Act show that current WSU President Kirk Schulz and other administrators are executing “a plan” to hire a “faculty champion” for the ranching industry to accommodate its complaints about Dr. Wielgus’ research.
“These documents depict a corrupt institution willing to barter its academic integrity,” added Carlesco. “WSU’s leaders have expressed their willingness to select faculty based upon their acceptability to industry.”
Look at WSU administrators seeking academic “champion” for ranchers
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