The researchers set up lures and sophisticated sensors; they even had a helicopter with infrared cameras, ready to go at a moment's notice. They hired a forensic scientist to examine in detail the famed 1967 Patterson film. (This crude bit of cinema verit‚ appears to show, depending on your level of skepticism, either a pendulous-breasted ape-woman or a sort of gigantic renegade sock puppet.) Meanwhile, Franzoni collected sightings, many from Indian tribes, and correlated the stories along various conceptual axes, using sophisticated computer models. The idea was to apply the most rigorous scientific methods to the evidence.

While much of the Bigfoot evidence could be explained away as the result of hoaxes, hysteria, or simple mistakes, not all of it could, and in the end, the project neither confirmed the existence of Sasquatch nor disproved the possibility. After seven years searching for the creature, Franzoni has moved on. But the experience had changed him. "Over the years I spent a lot of time out in the woods, chasing Bigfoot, and I gained a profound appreciation for nature," he says. "I began to see how fragile and interconnected the natural world is. At the same time, it definitely lowered my opinion of my fellow man. A lot of scientists are simply closed-minded or don't care about Bigfoot because that's not where the funding is. On the other hand, a lot of Bigfoot hunters are cowboys, guys who just want to bag a big trophy, who have no appreciation for the science involved or any desire to preserve endangered species. We're savages-our classic approach to the unknown is either to deny it or to shoot it."

Today Franzoni works for the Fish Passage Center, a branch of the Columbia Basin Fish and Wildlife Authority. The FPC is charged with monitoring fish populations, particularly salmon that must navigate the basin's 50 dams, and with making recommen-dations about how best to preserve existing fish species. In the Northwest, this is controversial work. Franzoni found that the skills he'd developed doing computer modeling on Bigfoot data fit perfectly into his new job. So did the thick hide he'd acquired.

"We're not an advocacy agency, but we're perceived as being pro-salmon," Franzoni says. "But what we do has to be data-driven, dispassionate. Our science has to be not just objective, but acceptable to all sides of the debate, because both sides get the data we develop." This is all interesting, I tell him, but what everyone wants to know is: does Bigfoot exist?

Franzoni takes a deep pause. He answers with a verbal feint or two. He begins by stressing that he is "retired" from L'Affaire Sasquatch, that he no longer follows the subject actively nor speaks about it much. In part this is because he had followed the leads about as far as they would go, and in part because he was tired of being seen as a kook "when the whole point was to approach Bigfoot in the most scientific way possible. Whether or not Bigfoot exists, the Bigfoot phenomenon is undeniable. That alone is worth paying attention to. A lot of people believe they've seen Bigfoot, or his tracks. So whatever the explanation-hoax, mass hallucination, bears, whatever-you can't just ignore the phenomenon."






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