University of Idaho attempts to save face – instead, loses it further

Bighorn Sheep © Ken Cole

Bighorn Sheep © Ken Cole

UI professor cleared of “scientific misconduct”Idaho Statesman
Update 1-9-2010. U
of I ruling on sheep researcher’s ethics isn’t credible. Opinion of the Magic Valley Times News.

It’s probably safe to say Marie Bulgin didn’t kill Kennedy either … but that’s it isn’t it?  It’s an easy thing to secure an acquittal when you get to choose the charges …

Eric Barker of The Lewiston Tribune (subscription only) :

The university investigated Bulgin’s statements and compared them to the known scientific record. said Jack McIver, vice president of research. He said the scope of the investigation was narrow.

“It was pretty cut and dried,” he said. “It really boils down to was there fabrication of data, which there was not.”

Fabrication of data ?  No no no … the claim Marie made to the Idaho legislature and before a federal judge was that she was aware of no data demonstrating transmission of disease from domestic to bighorn sheep in the wild.  That data existed, it was her lab that processed it … it was Marie’s daughter that processed it years ago …

So the University of Idaho had a credibility problem, their program coordinator got busted in an oversight … maybe there was “plausible deniability” maintained… maybe, but it’s a hell of an oversight.  It’d mean that every time Marie’s daughter came over to Mom’s place for lamb-chops, it just never occurred to her mention that she’d worked on a lab test producing results that her mom was now denying in front of a federal judge and the statehouse?

Could it be that the prospect of such an oversight didn’t just threaten Marie, it threatened the credibility of the institution itself, and not just the University, but the politicians in Idaho who pull the strings?

But the alleged misconduct alluded to in the Marie Bulgin/Bighorn Sheep scandal wasn’t a question of “scientific misconduct” – it was whether Marie used her position at the university lab, a position of perceived scientific objectivity, to testify in front of the Idaho Legislature and before a federal judge on behalf of an industry group whose lobbying group (Woolgrowers) she used to serve as President of.

You may remember that last June this investigation was initiated by the University of Idaho in response to news reports challenging the propriety of official testimony delivered to the Idaho legislature and a federal court.

Bulgin testified that she was unaware of any evidence demonstrating that domestic sheep transmit deadly disease to bighorn sheep in the wild. This was contradicted by her own daughter’s work at Bulgin’s own lab years before.  That testimony was heavily relied upon for passage of a controversial bighorn bill (S1232) that aggressively manages bighorns to protect domestic sheep grazing on public lands.  The main mechanism of that bill, implementation of industry-negotiated “Best Management Practices” (BMPs) for domestic sheep grazing, has been recently shot down by a federal judge.  Passage of the bill killed the perceived legitimacy of a state working group commissioned by Idaho Governor “Butch” Otter and prompted an exodus of bighorn advocates from the group.

Kevin Richert has a similar take on the “investigation” here:
When a university fails to do its homework
Kevin Richert – Idaho Statesman

Brian Ertz and Ken Cole contributed to this post

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Brian Ertz

28 Responses to University of Idaho clears itself of pesky "scientific misconduct" charges

  1. avatar timz says:

    “So the University of Idaho had a credibility problem”

    Yes, but they did win their bowl game this year.

  2. avatar Jay Barr says:

    U of I sure comes out of this with major egg on the face. They basically investigated the wrong issue in clearing Bulgin. Has the Univ. ever come out with a statement saying that they do know that there is credible research (conducted by them) that confirms that domestic sheep infect bighorns? Why hasn’t the U of I’s Dept. of Fish &Wildlife/Natural Resources made a statement in support of bighorns? This is a sad day for the integrity of the U of I, researchers who fail to stand up for the species they study (ie. to speak on behalf of science) and the science-based management of the public’s natural resources, and the state.

  3. avatar mikarooni says:

    Take the last scene of the movie “Chinatown” (where the old man retrieves his young daughter/granddaughter/lover from the arms of his dying daughter/lover) and replace the word “Chinatown” with “Idaho” to get a clear picture of the situation.

  4. avatar Si'vet says:

    Ewe-niversity of Idaho, professor pulls wool over feds eye’s.

    Ralph a little levity on a very disturbing situation. I know this is a predominatly a wolf site, but this womens testimony, has probably influenced management plans that may or may not go into effect because of her lies which may seriously jepordize the future of big horn sheep. Other than notifying local sportsman clubs, when can I or we do to push for review of plans or stratagey’s her testimony may have swayed? Can I ask that we not let this blog die yet. Mark Gamblin your thoughts?

  5. avatar Si'vet says:

    When can .. meant to say What can I or we do

  6. avatar JB says:

    Si’vet:

    You can talk with other hunters and let them know what you know.

    Anyone know if Bulgin has an Extension appointment?

  7. Si’vet,

    Any agency that has a management plan come up for renewal that cites her as an authority and a justification for not keeping sheep away from bighorn, should get a firm letter for the record that her views have been discredited. That letter gives you standing to appeal or sue if the agency does the wrong thing.

    I don’t know about opening up past plans, although Western Watersheds has been able to reach into sheep operations on Payette NF and Nez Perce NF to get them off the public lands.

  8. Si’vet,

    Any firm involvement from a sportsman’s group to help the struggling bighorn avoid disease could be a political gamechanger in favor of bighorn. The agencies and the politicians expect the response from Western Watershed’s they get, but figure they have sportsmen under control.

  9. avatar mikepost says:

    Whatever happened to the insubordination issue where she continued to speak on this after being suspended and ordered not to comment pending the investigation? Did I miss something?

  10. avatar Brian Ertz says:

    it’s remarkable how low an academic institution will prostrate itself on behalf of this state’s political order …

    yuck …

  11. avatar jdubya says:

    Si’vet…I think if you really want to see this stay in the public eye, people have to attack the research power structure at the univ. This sheep research lab was maintained and funded as a HUGE conflict of interest that was condoned by the very person who exonerated Bulgin. She is as dirty as tar sands in this deal, but so is her boss. If you really want to bring about change, start with the Univ President, legislators and the gov, complaining about McIver: he is the one that needs to go to allow the house cleaning to extend to Bulgin and her cronies.

  12. avatar Si'vet says:

    Thanks all, would it be possible to find out how far WWS has gone on this? I have made 2 calls this am, bighorn sheep supporters can be pretty aggressive, I’m going to see where these folks are at.

  13. Idaho’s higher education institutions are currently lying on their backs, gasping for air.

    My former colleagues appear to be overworked, discouraged, afraid they’ll lose their jobs. While in normal circumstances, they would just leave, it’s a deep recession.

    Pretty much everyone I know who is near retirement age has retired rather than put up with the situation.

    Experienced non-tenure faculty have been let go and have been replaced by graduate students who have no incentive and usually no ability to be good teachers.

    The students have to borrow more money every semester to pay for double digit tuition increases. Of course, many of the student loan institutions have been revealed to engage in unethical practices. Because you are not allowed to default on a student loan even with bankruptcy, young people who go to college have lost their ability to buy a home and start a family except in poverty.

    The state legislature will come through with more cuts soon. The legislature is disproportionately retired farmers and ranchers.

    So perhaps it can be seen why displeasing the interests who currently rule Idaho is not something the University of Idaho is likely to do.

  14. avatar JB says:

    God that is depressing, Ralph. No one likes to talk about it, but it’s no wonder we’re having financial troubles in a time when a large portion of the population (i.e. baby boomers) are getting older, getting sick, and retiring. Instead we just get the same partisan blame game.

  15. avatar Virginia says:

    Has the Rocky Mountain Sheep Foundation had any input into these Big Horn Sheep issues at all? They are always promoting their interest in maintaining happy, healthy sheep.

  16. avatar Ken Cole says:

    Virginia,

    I represent Western Watersheds Project at the Bighorn Sheep Domestic Sheep Advisory Board meetings.

    The Wild Sheep Foundation, formerly FNAWS, has been present at the Bighorn Sheep Domestic Sheep Advisory Board Meetings. Marie Bulgin has been present at most of these meetings as well.

  17. avatar Si'vet says:

    Ken I need help, already involved commissioners, this is a bunch of s–t. Fool me once shame on me, if I don’t hear from F&G in the near future, then uh,,, Do you know how hard it is to pee on someone elses tires when your wrong….

  18. avatar Si'vet says:

    Mark, jump on board here, I have defended you and your group. Where are we with the sheep issue.. I want to be an F&G advocate… I can’t do it with one arm tied behind my back… Friend or Foe????????

  19. avatar mikarooni says:

    I heard that Mark didn’t have tenure; his position has been eliminated and he’s been furloughed.

  20. avatar Mark Gamblin (IDFG) says:

    Si’Vet –
    Sorry for the delay in responding. I’m out of the office, checking in remotely. I’ve been a couple of threads, but not all. I just now caught this one.
    Neither the IDFG nor I can comment on internal personnel matters of another agency or state institution. I have not discussed the BHS disease issue with our wildlife research or wildlife disease staff recently, so I will only say tonight that based on my understanding of the technical literature and our experience with wild sheep disease outbreaks, the evidence is clear that disease transmission from domestic sheep to wild sheep is a fact. The current agreements between the IDFG, domestic sheep grazers, and federal land management agencies to prevent the interaction of domestic and wild sheep is based on the risk of disease transmission. I can’t offer more than that at this late hour and without up-to-date information from Department staff tasked to this issue.

  21. avatar Ken Cole says:

    The current BMP’s have no basis in science. Some of them allow grazing on public lands with only a separation of 2 miles while Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA) guidelines call for a separation of 9 miles which is a compromise in itself. In reality, with the nature of bighorn sheep to disperse long distances, the separation between the two should be much farther. Industry people have been trying to widdle away at the 9 mile guideline for years.

    The BLM issued an instruction memorandum in the 90’s calling for a 9 mile separation but it expired and there currently are no guidelines in place. I’ve been told they are waiting to see what comes out of the Payette National Forest process before following suit. That doesn’t make any sense, why wait for another agency to determine a policy that you should be implementing yourself when you’ve already got the science and have issued guidelines in the past? It’s nonsense just like the BLM.

    I’ve also heard that there are a couple of die-offs occurring in Nevada but I haven’t heard where. Does anyone know? There have been no news reports that I have been able to find.

  22. avatar Brian Ertz says:

    Let’s not forget:

    The IDFG/Industry BMPs (Best Management Practices) for bighorn/domestic sheep separation developed in response to state legislation have been repudiated as inadequate as a matter of law with respect to federal land management by a federal judge ~ specifically – the Partridge Creek decision

    IDFG’s BMPs are inadequate to ensure bighorn viability and legally inadequate as the stop-gap measure aimed at preventing the inevitable ~ the removal of domestic sheep from federal lands harboring valued bighorn sheep populations.

  23. avatar Virginia says:

    Ken – I understand that the Sheep Foundation has been present at the meetings. I just wondered what input they provided if any. They do a lot of fund raising and I wondered where all that money goes if not to advocate for the wild sheep.

  24. avatar Brian Ertz says:

    Virginia,

    I’m not Ken, but from my perspective, the Sheep Foundation seems to be conflicted as to its position on the wild sheep/domestic sheep issue. locals seem more willing to take a principled position …

    It used to be that the Sheep Foundation would buy-out domestic sheep operations to provide habitat for wild sheep. The group has since stopped allocating funds for buy-outs. Instead, they use a lot of dollars for transplants. Unfortunately, as is the case with the Hells Canyon transplants (of which the group contributed much much $$$), the success of such efforts are stymied by the disease issue — which the group remains largely silent on …

    Too often efforts to recover/restore wild sheep are front-loaded with resources for the transplant, but the controversy of the disease issue compels managers and advocates into a ‘see-no-evil’ attitude, and wild sheep are dropped into situations that are less than optimal … as is the case with the Hells Canyon die-offs.

    i might speculate that this might have something to do with the fact that certain members of their national board have pervasive links to the Ag Industry … thus, they’re not interested in the controversy of it all ~

  25. avatar Si'vet says:

    Mark, thanks, sorry I blew up. When people do things like Bulgin it just fires me up something awful. And like normal it’s kill the messenger time. I’ll take a self imposed time out.. Again I apologize.

  26. avatar Virginia says:

    Brian – thank you very much for confirming what I suspected anyway. You exposed them for what they really have been all along and I think I will try to find out just how connected some of them are to the ag industry. As we all know anyway, their organization is advocating for the sheep hunter more than the sheep.

  27. avatar Mark Gamblin (IDFG) says:

    Si’Vet –
    No apology necessary. Your expectation of a response from me was not out of line.

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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."

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