SOURCE: SEATTLE TIMES
A WAR OVER WOLVES
Outspoken researcher says his university and lawmakers silenced and punished him
By Lynda V. Mapes, Seattle Times environment reporter
By a slow slide of river deep in Washington’s wolf country, Robert Wielgus laughs at the tattoo on his arm of Four Claws, the grizzly that almost killed him.
“I would rather face charging grizzly bears trying to kill me than politicians and university administrators, because it is over quickly,” said Wielgus, director of the Large Carnivore Conservation Lab at Washington State University.
A Harley-riding, self-described adrenaline junkie at home in black motorcycle leathers with a Stetson and a .357 in the pickup, Wielgus, 60, is no tweed-jacket academic. For decades he has traveled North America wrangling bears, cougars and wolves to collar and study their behavior, including collaborations with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).
Wielgus now finds himself crosswise with ranchers, lawmakers and WSU administrators — and their lobbyists. He’s lost grant funding for his summer research, has been forbidden from talking to media in his professional role and has been reviewed — and cleared — for scientific misconduct.
To understand why involves a look at state policy concerning a menagerie of animals: cougars, sheep, cattle and wolves. And one more animal: homo sapiens.
In Washington, it turns out, wolves and livestock are getting along better than the people who manage and study them.
Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), a national nonprofit specializing in government scientist whistleblower protection, in April filed a 12-page complaint against WSU officials, alleging the university punished and silenced Wielgus to placate ranchers and state legislators who objected to his research. WSU officials declined to comment for this story, citing possible litigation.
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