Breaking an agency of its old ways

  • CRUSADER: Andy Stahl

    photo courtesy FSEEE

Note: This article is a sidebar to one of this issue's feature stories.

Andy Stahl, the executive director of Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics (FSEEE) oversees the largest activist organization in the country devoted exclusively to forest management issues. FSEEE was founded a decade ago by former timber planner Jeff DeBonis, to create a safety net for Forest Service employees who blow the whistle on agency mismanagement and corruption.

When Stahl talks about the "Iron Triangle" gripping the Forest Service for much of this century, he says it's like the patronage of old Chicago politics.

"Consider the paths of two foresters hired by the agency at the same time. One believes that logging is good, the other believes it is no more, nor no less, important than other uses. The employee who says that logging is good gets a bigger staff, more employees, more opportunities for promotion, and the other guy ends up staff director of recreation, a cul de sac post at best, with no budget, few support staff and very little influence, or he left and went to work for the Park Service," Stahl says.

For the last 30 years, he says, this scenario has played out on every national forest with a stick of timber to cut in the West.

But that may be starting to change. This winter, FSEEE won a major battle for free speech on behalf of Tongass National Forest ecologist Mary Dalton. She was reprimanded for challenging timber sales in Alaska that she believed were breaking federal environmental laws.

As a staffer, Dalton had prepared a biological report on the negative effects that clear-cutting would have on several species of wildlife, but her analysis was not included in the review which gave several sales the green light. After appealing the sales, Dalton was transferred to a national forest in Arizona.

The Forest Service justified its actions by using a code, drafted originally at the behest of the timber industry, which forbade agency experts from trying to stop harmful management actions. When FSEEE brought this to the attention of chief Mike Dombeck and highlighted it in the media, the code was repealed. But Mary Dalton is still in Arizona; regional forester Phil Janik has refused to revoke her punitive transfer.

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