Malpractice as usual

  Taxpayers are paying the price because Forest Service officials in California handed out timber contracts without adequate environmental reviews, according to a report from the Washington, D.C.-based Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Business As Usual: A Case Study of Environmental and Fiscal Malpractice on the Eldorado National Forest describes how top managers weren't penalized for granting 24 timber sales based on inaccurate and outdated environmental assessments. Thanks to an internal federal review released to PEER through the Freedom of Information Act, the report documents how agency staffers repeatedly told managers that the sales were illegal because they failed to protect the California spotted owl, a sensitive species. The staffers were ignored. Finally, in 1994, the acting supervisor admitted the agency had violated several environmental laws and forest officials withdrew the sales. In December 1995, the Forest Service paid $400,000 to three companies to settle undisclosed claims arising out of the breached contracts, valued at up to $30 million. Meanwhile, Rex Baumback, the former timber management officer for the forest, has been promoted to a new position in the agency's national timber program in Washington, D.C., forest supervisor John Phipps retained his post, and district ranger Craig Harasek took early retirement. PEER notes that the whistleblowers have been effectively stripped of their authority to review future timber sales through an internal agency reorganization. According to PEER, "gross lack of accountability is the rule and not exception within the Forest Service; a tale like this is occurring every day in our nation's public resource agencies."

Copies of the report are available for $5 from PEER, 2001 S Street, N.W., Suite 570, Washington, DC 20009-1125 (202/265-PEER). - Michelle McClellan

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