Wednesday, February 6, 2008

The BFRO vs the PGC

The Bigfoot Field Research Organization is attacking the Pennsylvania Game Commission. Why would the BFRO want to discredit the PGC? Could it be because the PGC thinks the Jacobs photos show a bear?

By DoctorAtlantis (William Smith)

In an article titled, "Debunking the Pennsylvania Game Commission," the BFRO in an unattributed article attempts to discredit the Pennsylvania Game Commission and Jerry Feaser in particular. What is the basis for this attack? According to the BFRO, the PGC is trying to cover up the existence of Mountain Lions in the wilds of Pennsylvania. Here's what the BFRO has to say about it:
"A significant percentage of people in PA say the PGC is the least trusted government agency in the state, because the PGC has stated for years, emphatically, that there are no mountain lions in Pennsylvania, even though hundreds of people in Pennsylvania, including many government employees, have seen mountain lions."
First of all, it is unclear by what is meant by this statement. Pennsylvania has a population of more than 12 million people, and is the sixth most populous state in the US. So, what percentage of the population is "significant?" The BFRO doesn't say, and doesn't say where they get their figures. But they do say "hundreds" of people have seen mountain lions. (Actually, looking at their wording it isn't even clear if these people have seen the lions in Pennsylvania.) If we assume that the percentage they're referring to is composed of the people who state that they have seen the lions, and we take the maximum potential population to reach that quotable without getting into the "more than a thousand" range, we could postulate 999 lion spotters. What percentage of the population would 999 people be? (999 hypothetical lion-spotters / 12,432,792 total population of PA) x 100 = .0080 percent.

Seriously? Is .0080 percent of the population really a "significant percentage?" And that derived from my completely hypothetical "best case" 999 lion-spotters?

But if that weren't bad enough, let's check out their claim. They say that the PGC has emphatically claimed that there are no mountain lions in Pennsylvania. While it would be difficult to keep track of every thing the PGC has said in spoken-word or writing "for years," we can go check out the web site of this agency and search on "mountain lions." I did this, and my first hit was a very interesting article about a mountain lion being confiscated in Pennsylvania. The article doesn't seem to be the kind of denial job that the BFRO asserts it has been guilty of. In fact they don't say emphatically that there are no mountain lions in PA. What they do say is this:
"Pennsylvania's last known wild eastern mountain lion was killed in Berks County in 1874. And, except for Florida, the eastern mountain lion is believed to have been extirpated from the East Coast by 1900. But, over the years, mountain lion sightings have been reported throughout the state. 'The overwhelming majority of cases we investigate are proven to be mistaken identity based on examination of tracks, photos or other physical evidence,' Ross said. 'Some cases are inconclusive.'"
If I'm reading the PGC's article correctly, it sounds like what they're saying is that they haven't found conclusive evidence for mountain lions living in the wild of Pennsylvania. I can see where that might chafe the folks at the BFRO. Perhaps it reminds them of their own evidentiary shortcomings?

In a bit of disingenuous writing, the BFRO says:
The push of the meeting was apparently to force PGC's official position to something more rational-sounding, like "There might be mountain lions in Pennsylvania." The official statement at the end of the meeting stated that USFWS concluded that there "needs to be a study" to determine whether (and if so, how many) mountain lions exist in Pennsylvania. The USFWS now asks the public to send sighting reports of wild mountain lions directly to the USFWS, rather than to the PGC, in apparent recognition of the PGC's long-standing practice of whitewashing any sighting reports sent their way.
Really? If you follow the link to the article they're referencing, you'll see that what the USFWS actually says is this:
"And, while some believe mountain lions exist in the wilds of
Pennsylvania, we have no conclusive evidence to support such views.
However, if someone does encounter a mountain lion, the most logical
explanation would be that the animal escaped from or was released by
someone who either legally or illegally brought the animal into

That's nearly identical to the PGC's stance on the big cat issue. Furthermore, the USFWS press release actually says this:

Roe encouraged Pennsylvanians to contact the Game Commission region office nearest them to report information about exotic wildlife that may be illegally possessed or improperly caged. All information will be kept strictly confidential.
That phrase "Game Commission" refers to the PGC, not the USFWS. Furthermore, this release is not from the USFWS. It is from Jerry Feaser at the PGC and is just posted on the USFWS website. Jerry's name and contact info are down at the bottom of the list. That's where you'll find the article's point of origination - the words "SOURCE Pennsylvania Game Commission."

Yes, the article does ask for evidence of cougars to be sent to the USFWS - but that isn't because the USFWS is stepping in to fix some incompetency on the part of the PGC. It is part of a larger study of cougars across the eastern US, and this paragraph is a better summary of the USFWS position:
As part of the review, the USFWS is seeking information on the status
of the eastern cougar in the 21 states -- from Maine to South Carolina and
westward from Michigan to Tennessee -- where the Endangered Species Act
protects it. Lacking definitive evidence of the species' existence, the
Service has presumed the eastern cougar to be extinct. According to the
USFWS, it is improbable that a small cougar population persisted in the
eastern states for over a century. Most of the confirmed cougar records
since 1950 (animals killed, good quality photos/videos, genetic evidence)
are known to be escapes of captive origin.
So there. Yes the USFWS is conducting a study. No, it is not doing it to take care of a failure on the part of the PGC.

Nice work, BFRO.* Looks like you've put exactly the kind of outstanding research into this that you've brought to bear on the whole Jacobs incident.

So, what's the truth here? Is the BFRO too inept to read an article and understand what it is saying? Or are they relying on the expectation that their members (and other readers) will accept the BFRO version of reality without actually following up on any of the information themselves?

There are serious people studying the field of cryptozoology, and the serious and competent people know that the burden of proof for any kind of claims that seem extraordinary will be very high indeed.

*And in case you can't figure it out, BFRO - I was being sarcastic when I said "Nice work."

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