Thursday, January 14, 2010

Your Tax Dollars At Work - The Ongoing Saga of Glen Ith

Glen Ith was a wildlife biologist for the US Forest Service in Alaska, on the Tongass National Forest.  Was, as in the past tense, for Glen Ith is now dead.  He died four days after being summarily fired from his job, following 16 months of exile to a back room office.  Why?  He dared to expose the US Forest Service’s hypocritically arrogant decision to ignore federal law.  More specifically, the arrogance came from particular individuals within the US Forest Serve who imperiously decided their opinions were more important than federal law.

Glen Ith was a whistle blower who paid the ultimate price for his dedication to truth.  He had a well-earned reputation for dedication to his work as well.  He took the US Forest Service to court twice - and prevailed both times.  But that didn’t stop management in the US Forest from spending buckets of taxpayer dollars to pursue and harass him relentlessly, and ultimately terminate his career after a lifetime of dedication to his work.  Indeed, that was the very reason for it, and only added fuel to their determination to destroy him personally. Ith’s story is a saga of greed, arrogance, malfeasance, and ultimately, egregious human tragedy.

This is a story the American people should hear.  Fortunately for Ith’s widow, and under a new, friendlier and more open administration, an investigation has now been reopened in his case.

The investigation is just now getting underway. There are hundreds of internal  USFS documents pertaining to case, and there is a strong possibility high-level heads may roll for their complicity in Glen Ith’s tragedy, I believe. A close reading of the documents in that case can only lead a lay person to the conclusion of a campaign against Mr. Ith by management in the USFS. You can almost hear their collective sigh of relief at his unexpected death.  But, only time can tell on that.

An underlying problem, and partial cause for the alleged malfeasance is the underlying culture of the USFS management itself. I suppose something similar must be true for any large federal bureaucracy - but I know about the Forest Service arrogance from personal experience. There is nothing like the disdain and sneering arrogance higher management in the Forest Service has for anyone who dares oppose them. I have personally been on the receiving end of Forrest Cole’s sneering disdain myself. Forrest Cole is the current Tongass National  Forest’s manager, and was Glen Ith’s principle antagonist.

The US National Forest system comprises 193 million acres nationwide - and almost 17 million acres are in Alaska’s Tongass National Forest - almost 9% of the total. The Tongass is an integral part of the overall economy of Southeast Alaska, and most of the communities there are surrounded by the forest, including Alaska’s capital city, Juneau. Like the rest of America’s national forests, the Tongass was heavily logged during the 20th century, usually under sweetheart deals with the lumber companies. But, fortunately due to its remoteness, not quite to the same degree. Some US National Forests, particularly in the east have essentially been 100% logged and none of original forests are left. The Tongass still has an estimated 30% of the original old growth forest left.

The congressional mandate (law) to the US Forest Service under the National Forest Management Act (NFMA) is to:

“insure consideration of the economic and environmental aspects of various systems of renewable resource management, including the related systems of silviculture and protection of forest resources, to provide for outdoor recreation (including wilderness), range, timber, watershed, wildlife, and fish;”

and to,

“provide for diversity of plant and animal communities based on the suitability and capability of the specific land area in order to meet overall multiple-use objectives, and within the multiple-use objectives of a land management plan adopted pursuant to this section, provide, where appropriate, to the degree practicable, for steps to be taken to preserve the diversity of tree species similar to that existing in the region controlled by the plan;”

It is left largely up to the USFS, under the constraints of applicable law as to how to do this. Thus the sometimes ambiguity of the decision making processes. Further, many in the management hierarchy of the USFS are influenced by other factors, beginning with their educations. Most national forest managers come out of university forestry programs, whose emphasis is on the wood fiber production for industry.  Few people out of the wildlife or environmental sciences make it into management due to the service’s traditional culture. This means there is a strong inclination for timber production - tree farming if you will. In fact, most national forests in the eastern United States are de facto tree farms today.

Further still, due to traditional management culture, many in Forest Service management are personally and naturally close to the players in the timber production industry, and openly favor their side in negotiations between other interest groups. There are some exceptions to this tradition of course, but they are few and far between. It is very illustrative to read the USFS’ justifications for logging the Tongass as a testament to obfuscation, denial and distortion, not to mention an almost complete failure to address the questions asked.

As a fiscal conservative, one of the most interesting USFS comments to me is “Profitability is not a yardstick used for evaluating the performance of the national forest timber sale program.”

Indeed it is not! It is estimated that every private timber job on the Tongass National Forest costs the US taxpayer over $141,000!

* For nearly a century, timber companies have enjoyed open access to national forest resources. Until very recently, the access has been essentially unrestrained. But this access costs everyone else. The federal logging program on federal lands now loses over One Billion Dollars annually - Plus over Two Billion more if community offsetting payments are added in. And due to its remoteness, it costs much more proportionally on the Tongass National Forest. In the last few years for example, the timber sales program on the Tongass cost the US taxpayer over between 30 and 50 million dollars PER YEAR over and above receipts for the trees.  Nonetheless, the FS claims with straight faces timber sales are not subsidized and simultaneously claim,  'profitability is not a yardstick'.

C'mon now! All this is enough to drive a fiscal conservative right over the edge! May Glen Ith’s crucifixion not have been in vain . . . .


Your Tax Dollars at work
Logging in Alaska
The Tongass National Forest
National Geographic Report on the Tongass
Daily Kos

* With a great deal of political help and back room deals - Recent timeline: (Source:  SE Alaska Conservation Council):

"2003 Settlement between Forest Service and State of Alaska over Roadless Rule:  Secret negotiations between Undersecretary of Agriculture Mark Rey, former timber lobbyist and Jim Clark, former attorney for Alaska Forest Association and then chief-of-staff for Governor Frank Murkowski, result in settlement where Forest Service agrees to propose rule that exempts Tongass from the Roadless Rule."

"2003 Roadless Rule Exemption:  The Bush administration exempts the Tongass from Roadless Rule protections on December 23, 2003. "

1 comment:

  1. From the Daily Kos:

    "Glen Ith's struggle

    USDA had reason to know that Glen Ith was correct when he filed an appeal of road building in the Tongass. Ith previously requested and won an injunction against timber industry activities there. Nevertheless, those who should have protected Glen Ith apparently failed him, from...

    ...a USDA ethics chief...

    A federal ethics and personnel chief urged Tongass National Forest officials to destroy e-mails containing his advice on how to fire a Petersburg whistle-blower to preclude their discovery in a potential lawsuit.

    "Your worksheet is releasable to the appellant when he files an appeal and the parties engage in discovery. That's why you should destroy your original worksheet and any attachment of it in e-mails. Make sure it does not exist," wrote Melvin Shibuya, a U.S. Forest Service ethics and personnel branch chief, to Tongass supervisor Forrest Cole in September 2007."


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