For Immediate Release: May 15, 2018
Contact: Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337
Academic Freedom Settlement for Washington Wolf Scientist
Washington State University Pays Researcher Targeted by Industry to Leave Campus
Washington, DC — Washington’s leading wolf expert has resolved his complaint of harassment and infringement of academic freedom against its state university, according to a joint statement issued today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), representing the researcher, and Washington State University (WSU). The complaint concerned WSU administrators’ acquiescence to political pressure brought by the livestock industry to muzzle research showing that ranchers could largely eliminate wolf-related predation by following inexpensive best practices.
Professor Robert Wielgus was Director of WSU’s Large Carnivore Conservation Laboratory that did pioneering research into how to reduce conflict between gray wolves and livestock. His work became controversial after he showed that lethal control was not an effective means to reduce livestock depredation and that certain ranchers were provoking wolf predation to trigger policies requiring the state game agency to kill the entire wolfpack.
After Dr. Wielgus reported his findings and repeated them in the press, WSU administrators threatened him with disciplinary action, impeded his research, and imposed a gag order. A joint statement issued today as part of the resolution to a threatened PEER academic freedom lawsuit reads:
“Washington State University and Dr. Rob Wielgus have reached an agreement under which Dr. Wielgus will resign at the end of the spring 2018 semester and release all claims in exchange for a lump sum payment of $300,000, with funds coming from the state insurance liability account. In reaching this agreement, neither party acknowledges any wrongdoing. Both parties view this as an opportunity to sever the employment relationship on mutually acceptable terms, while resolving disputed legal claims.”
“After over 20 years of in-depth on-the-ground field research into the most iconic large carnivores of North America, the world-renowned Carnivore Conservation Laboratory at WSU will be closing its doors” said Dr. Wielgus. “This comes after years of political pressure from ranching interests and political interference by high ranking state politicians to halt research into carnivore interactions with livestock and the development of non-lethal strategies to combat depredation.”
“WSU administrators have repeatedly shown their willingness to obstruct scientific research that discomfits agricultural interests,” stated PEER Staff Counsel Adam Carlesco, pointing to emails showing industry-induced interference with, and censorship of, WSU faculty research. “Far from an ivory tower, WSU has let lobbyists and legislators make academic decisions and dictate results of published research.”
In the absence of Dr. Wielgus’ predation avoidance program and research, Washington lacks a coherent, science-based wolf management policy. While the state game agency has continued “lethal removal” of wolfpacks, it has cloaked its decision-making from public review to (in the words of one game official) “keep the temperature down” in the face of protests over game agents shooting wolves from helicopters at the behest of cattle ranchers on public lands.