Questions about who knew what and when they knew it.

Bighorn Sheep © Ken Cole

Bighorn Sheep © Ken Cole

The controversy over whether domestic sheep transmit deadly pathogens to bighorn sheep seems to have been settled.

At issue now is whether studies were intentionally suppressed by staff of the Caine Veterinary Teaching Center in Caldwell Idaho, whether leadership at the lab had cultivated a working environment so pervasivesly sympathetic to the livestock-industry that objective science was a far-shot anyway, whether it was both, neither, or somewhere in-between.  One thing’s certain in our minds, land-grant Universities throughout the West show similar signs of livestock industry fostered bias – it’s just easier to get federal and state grants that way, and our public landscape and wildlife continue to take the short-end for it.

Specific to this case, there is question as to whether Dr. Marie Bulgin, who is the Teaching Program Coordinator of the lab and is/was the president of the Idaho Woolgrowers Association, knew about the studies before testifying to the Idaho Legislature and in front of a Federal Judge.

When confronted with the existence of the paper :

Contacted Thursday, Bulgin, a past president of the Idaho Wool Grower’s Association who worked at the Idaho center in 1994 but took over as coordinator only in 2003, said she knew nothing about the research until earlier this year.

As recently as April 3, 2009 I (Ken) witnessed Dr. Marie Bulgin testify to the Idaho State Legislature that there was no evidence of transmission between domestic sheep and bighorn sheep in the wild. You can also see here that Senator Jeff Siddoway used this testimony to convince the legislature to pass S1175.

Sen. Siddoway also explained that according to Marie Bulgin, a University of Idaho veterinarian, no scientist has found a single instance of pasteurella moving from domestic sheep to bighorn in 19 years of research.

There exists a copy of the paper, which has not been published nor peer reviewed, obtained by Western Watersheds Project recently after being made aware of it several months ago. The paper outlines two incidents in 1994 where bighorn sheep were observed intermingling with domestic sheep. One of the bighorn sheep had been relocated several months previous to the incident and at the time of relocation had been found to be free of the pathogen. The bighorn were each captured and taken to the Caine lab where they were held in isolation, had samples taken from them and they subsequently died of pneumonia. Samples were taken from the domestic sheep as well and when the two were compared biochemically identical strains of Pasteurella haemolytica were found in both the bighorn sheep and domestic sheep samples.  Marie Bulgin’s daughter was acknowledged in the paper for her contribution to the lab work that took place back in ’94.

The Idaho Statesman issued an Editorial Opinion about the issue.
Our View: You can’t pull wool over the eyes of science
– Idaho Statesman

Rocky Barker also writes about the issue.

Was bighorn research at the University of Idaho suppressed?
BY ROCKY BARKER

Sheep-bighorn battle dike breaks
BY ROCKY BARKER

Ken Cole and Brian Ertz contributed to this post.

UPDATE: UI investigating researcher over bighorn study John Miller AP

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About The Author

Ken Cole

Ken Cole, Buffalo Field Campaign's Executive Director, is a 5th generation Idahoan, an avid fly fisherman, wildlife enthusiast, and photographer. He was formerly the Idaho Director for Western Watersheds Project.

8 Responses to Conflict of Interest Allegations Being Investigated at the U of Idaho Caine Veterinary Teaching Center.

  1. avatar jdubya says:

    Right, but we have heard this song before.

    Is this different than the tobacco companies paying university researchers to come up with data that support safe smoking, or how about lumber interests funding “research” or endowed chairs in university forestry departments, or drug companies funding heart research or how about Wildlife departments at schools with revolving doors into Fish and Game departments of states (which, in the case in Oregon, gives the high enthusiasm prize for hatchery steelhead and salmon instead of wild) ???

    Conflicts of interest are rampant in any “research” effort that obtains funds from the focus of the research. The onus is fundamentally on the university in allowing (or not!) such associations to be created in the first place.

  2. avatar Tilly says:

    Take a bow, WWP, for making this story front page news through sheer persistence.

  3. avatar JB says:

    “Is this different than the tobacco companies paying university researchers to come up with data that support safe smoking, or…lumber interests funding “research”…or drug companies funding heart research or how about Wildlife departments at schools with revolving doors into Fish and Game departments of states…?”

    All applied research is problem driven, and nearly all of it is funded by groups that have a vested interest in the outcome. Funding sources always influence the types of research questions that are asked, it only becomes problematic when they also dictate the answers.

    Clearly the Caine lab was willing and able to investigate the issue of disease transmission from domestic to bighorn sheep. What was improper (assuming it occurred) was the use of deceit to cover up findings that could negatively impact agriculture (i.e. the funding source) and by extension, the researchers.

  4. avatar DB says:

    She’s sticking to her story, at least the part about disease transmission in the wild. This from Eric Barker’s piece in today’s Lewiston Morning Tribune:

    “After she testified before the Senate Nature Resource Committee in February, Sen. Gary Schroeder R-Moscow, asked Bill Foreyt, a Washington State University professor who has researched the disease connection between bighorn and domestic sheep, to assess the accuracy of Bulgin’s testimony. Foreyt wrote that Bulgin is alone in her beliefs and that domestic and bighorn sheep are not compatible.

    “It is my opinion that essentially all scientists who work with bighorn sheep or have evaluated the scientific literature, dispute or ignore most of the testimony that she has given for the last several years,” Foreyt wrote.

    He went on to write the Bulgin’s testimony has served to confuse the general public as well as policy-makers about the disease link between bighorn and domestic sheep. Bulgin responded to Foreyt’s critique in a letter of her own to Schroeder and repeated her position that, “There is no hard scientific data which shows that disease has transmitted in the wild.”

    She said Tuesday that until she sees such evidence, domestic sheep and the ranchers who raise them should not be kicked off public land.”

  5. avatar Ken Cole says:

    DB, Could you send me that article?

  6. avatar JB says:

    “There is no hard scientific data which shows that disease has transmitted in the wild….She said Tuesday that until she sees such evidence, domestic sheep and the ranchers who raise them should not be kicked off public land.”

    In Montana, despite an utter lack of scientific evidence of brucellosis transmission from bison to cattle in the wild, bison are slaughtered for simply leaving YNP. Now, with pretty solid evidence of disease transmission from domestic sheep to bighorn, Bulgin would have us wait for proof before taking action. In both cases (as usual), livestock interests win over wildlife in the west.

  7. avatar Brian Ertz says:

    Ken, it’s the most recent AP article – the update at the bottom of the post

  8. avatar bob jackson says:

    JB,
    Very, very good point. I hope BFC and others pick up on this statement and take it as far as it can go…which could go quite far if it is hammered, hammered and hammered home to show the bison policy in all its hypocracy. Very Good point I say again. And to think YNP administration goes along with these very stupid reasons!!!!

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‎"At some point we must draw a line across the ground of our home and our being, drive a spear into the land and say to the bulldozers, earthmovers, government and corporations, “thus far and no further.” If we do not, we shall later feel, instead of pride, the regret of Thoreau, that good but overly-bookish man, who wrote, near the end of his life, “If I repent of anything it is likely to be my good behaviour."

~ Edward Abbey

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