Newsletter - Animal Writes sm
3 September 2000 Issue

Science Under Fire:
DOW Official Pressured CU to Put Limits on Outspoken Professor
by Brian Hansen
Colorado Daily Staff

Colorado Daily - July 16, 1999 - The former director of the Colorado Division of Wildlife's lynx-reintroduction program attempted to silence one of his most outspoken critics CU biology professor Marc Bekoff by threatening to withhold grant monies and personal funds from the university, the Colorado Daily has learned.

John Seidel, who headed the state agency's controversial program until his retirement three months ago, wrote to CU President John Buechner in March and asked him to "look into" Bekoff's public criticism of the program.

"I would appreciate it if you could have your staff look into this matter and explore the possibility of a meeting between your dean, Dr. Bekoff and personnel from the Division," Seidel wrote Buechner. "I am quite frustrated by this situation and would appreciate any suggestions you might have for reducing this public conflict."

Seidel did not use CDOW stationery for his letter but nevertheless acknowledged that he composed his thoughts while wearing "several hats."

In his letter, Seidel complained to Buechner about how Bekoff had criticized the CDOWs lynx-reintroduction program at a November 1998 academic conference in London.

"Hopefully, state funds did not pay for that trip," Seidel declared.

Seidel also complained to Buechner that Bekoff "has used his position to organize students into protests" over the lynx-reintroduction program, which, at the time, was operating at a 40-percent mortality rate.

Moreover, Seidel decried Bekoffs practice of submitting lynx-related letters and op-ed pieces to local newspapers.

"He (Bekoff) states he is a scientist yet I have seen little science and a lot of something called yellow journalism," Seidel wrote.

Seidel then laid out the financial consequences of the situation to Buechner.

"I have applied to the Turner Foundation for a $30,000 grant to be used with a university to sponsor a graduate student to do an in-depth study of lynx ecology," Seidel explained. "I have been discussing the possibility of giving this money to CU ...(but) after the recent attack by Dr. Bekoff my coworkers have insisted that we direct the money to CSU."

The $30,000 grant wasn't the only leverage that the state official used in his attempt to influence Buechner.

"My wife and I both graduated from CU and we are DINKS (double income no kids)," Seidel declared. "My current will leaves one-fourth of my estate to the school of environmental studies at CU. Dr. Bekoff has seriously made me consider changing my will."

Richard Byyny, chancellor of CU-Boulder, was quick to support Bekoff.

"Marc, we value you. Keep up the good work on behalf of the University," Byyny declared in an e-mail message to the outspoken biology professor.

Byyny then composed a letter to Seidel.

"We are grateful that you have put our environmental studies program in your will, and we of course hope that you will not change your mind," Byyny wrote. "We also hope that you will make your decision about the Turner Foundation funds based upon who is really most qualified to conduct the lynx ecology

In an interview this week, Byyny described the significance of the situation.

"I stood up for (Bekoff's) right to speak out, and for his academic freedom," Byyny said. Bekoff, who has published more than 150 peer-reviewed articles and 10 books on a host of animal-related subjects, was stunned by strange events.

"My first two reactions were anger and incredulity," the CU biology professor said. "It felt like I was being blindsided."

Seidel, who continues to defend the scientific soundness of the CDOWs lynx-reintroduction program, nevertheless regrets his letter to Buechner.

"The letter was a horrible mistake," Seidel said this week. "It was very poor judgment on my part."

Seidel, a 28-year veteran of the CDOW, acknowledged that the situation contributed to his decision to retire last April.

"This whole (lynx-reintroduction) project got very stressful, and I didn't need that," Seidel said. "I'm a biologist, and I wanted to do a biologists job, but it got very political.

Seidel's comments certainly ring true for environmental activists opposed to Vail Resorts controversial "Category III" expansion. Activists have long maintained that government agencies have failed to adhere to environmental protection laws that could have and should have prevented Vail from expanding into what many studies have concluded is critical lynx habitat.

Curiously, the CDOW, thanks to yet another piece of questionable correspondence, has found itself embroiled in the middle of the Vail controversy as well.

In a Nov. 12, 1997 e-mail obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, CDOW employee Rick Kahn described a meeting that state officials had the previous day with representatives of Vail Associates.

Kahn described a "quid pro quo" agreement that Vail attorneys proposed to the CDOW.

"VA posed the following question," Kahn recalled in the e-mail. "If VA takes the lead in securing funding for lynx (and) wolverine recovery, would the state be willing to release VA from all further obligations for preserving and protecting lynx habitat in the Vail ski area expansion zone?"

According to Seidel, the CDOW "took the money (approximately $200,000), but we didn't give them anything for it."

Bekoff and many others aren't so sure.

"As far as the Vail connection goes, there are a lot of strings that nobody seems to be able to tie together," he said.

Still, Bekoff said he was "amazed" that state officials such as Seidel and Kahn would leave such a damning record of their actions.

"Don't they realize that this stuff is going to come out eventually?" he asked.

Part 2: Lynx and academic freedom
by Marc Bekoff <[email protected]>
Guest Opinion

Lynx, freedom of speech and academic tenure seem strange partners.

However, recent stories in the Camera (July 17, p. 1B) and other newspapers have shown that they aren't. Prior to the reintroduction of Canadian lynx into Southwestern Colorado on Feb. 3, 1999, I and others were against their release, although we've supported other similar efforts. Opposition was broad-based and involved people who rarely talked with one another (animal rights activists, ranchers and wool growers). Shared concerns centered on questionable political, social, economical and biological aspects of the project.

We also were told: (1) Vail Associates gave $200,000 to the project (questions about a Vail-CDOW connection concerning Vail's proposed Category III expansion into suitable lynx habitat were hastily dismissed, but there's evidence that CDOW did pursue this possibility). (2) Lynx no longer live in Colorado (but experts strongly disagree, no lynx surveys were conducted around Vail after their expansion was approved in 1994, and lynx have recently been "rediscovered" in Oregon. (3) A death rate of 50 percent was expected and acceptable. When I asked why 50 percent mortality was acceptable I was told because "they'll die up there anyway."

I also was told no public opinion survey concerning the lynx project was done. Subsequently, Mr. Seidel referred to the lynx release as "an experiment of sorts" and admitted the project was rushed ( I was surprised by Mr. Seidel's cavalier attitude. Why were his and CDOW's speculations any more valid than critics' speculations that were summarily dismissed? I subsequently wrote an essay titled "Jinxed Lynx" ( and organized three protests. As each lynx succumbed to the predictable lack of food, I and others voiced our concerns. Our worries were ignored or categorically dismissed, so I figured these discussions were going to be one-sided preachings to the converted. I was wrong.

Freedom of speech:
On March 16, 1999, I learned Mr. Seidel had written a letter directly to John Buechner, CU's President, regarding my asking "pointed questions" about the lynx program. President Buehner forwarded it to me, the Chancellor of the Boulder Campus and other campus officials. Mr. Seidel's letter was an attempt to intimidate, coerce and censure. My response began: "You raise numerous important and often complex and contentious issues, two of which are dear to my heart, freedom of speech and academic freedom. Of course, freedom of speech not only is a right protected by our Constitution, but it is a right that we all cherish. Indeed, you exercised your freedom of speech by chastising me, but you seem unwilling to grant me the right to question the lynx project. . . I hope that you can honor the right to freedom of speech by both your supporters and critics. Open discussion is essential when . . . there are competing views."

Money showed its face. Mr. Seidel wrote (sic): "My wife and I both graduated from CU and we are DINKS (double income no kids) my current will leaves 1/4 of my estate to the school of Environmental Studies at CU. Dr. Bekoff has seriously made me consider changing my will."

Not only were personal funds involved but there were hints of diverting other funds. Mr. Seidel wrote: "I have applied to the Turner Foundation for a $30,000 grant to be used with a university to sponsor a graduate student to do an in-depth study of lynx ecology. I have been discussing the possibility of giving this money to CU . . . After the recent attack by Dr. Bekoff my coworkers have insisted that we direct the money to CSU . . . "

So, did money talk? No. The university unequivocally supported me. But that wasn't all. It got pretty personal. Mr. Seidel wrote that unnamed sources told him: "He is a recognized animal behaviorist, but my colleges (sic) advise me that he has not published anything since 1980." Not so. Since 1980 I've published eight books and over 100 professional articles, many on coyotes and carnivores of which I know some of his colleagues were aware. (Was he duped?) Mr. Seidel also claimed I was asked to be on the lynx advisory team. I wasn't. He later apologized for his false accusations concerning my academic record and my being asked to be on his team. (He also provided information about the lynx project.)

Finally, concerning teaching, Mr. Seidel wrote: "Animal Rights is a difficult subject to teach since it involves core values and would probably be better dealt with in one's quest for answers to spiritual questions. Is Dr. Bekoff paid to teach animal rights? There is considerable difference between animal behavior and animal rights." I, similar to my colleagues, am paid to teach what I believe is important in my fields of expertise. And there are tight links between animal behavior and animal rights. Many people, including policy makers, make decisions about animal use and animal well-being and rights based on their behavior and also their capacities to experience pain and suffering. Great Apes are banned from use in research in Great Britain because of their behavior, intelligence, and sentience. Similar legislation's pending in New Zealand. Academic tenure and freedom of speech: A primary function of tenure is to allow individuals to speak out on controversial issues without risking their jobs. It's essential both to be able to express diverse opinions without retaliation and to cherish this right. All attempts to squelch dissent must be vigorously resisted. Who'd have guessed the lynx would be responsible for rekindling and driving these fundamental points home? Many thanks to these magnificent cats for teaching these lessons. Let's wish them the best of luck on their journeys.

Marc Bekoff teaches in Environmental, Population, and Organismic Biologyat CU Boulder. His children's book, "Strolling with Our Kin" will appear this fall. July 22, 1999
[email protected] (BEKOFF MARC)

Go on to The Amazing Talking Cat by Jon Carroll - [email protected]
Return to 3 September 2000 Issue
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