U.S. Forest Service Scalped on Tongass Timber Sales

Old-growth forest clearcutting was ongoing last summer on the Tongass National Forest’s Big Thorne timber sale on Prince of Wales Island. Photo by Jacob Ritley, as part of the Tongass Groundtruth Expedition, 2016.

Thanks to longtime blog commenter and contributor, David Beebe, for posting information about this release from PEER (Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility) in this comment at a previous post. – mk

Washington, DC — Recent timber sales from Alaska’s vast Tongass National Forest have been financial as well as ecological debacles, according to internal reports released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). In violation of its own policies, the U.S. Forest Service let timber operators benefit by cherry-picking more valuable trees and leaving intended salvage trees standing.

A June 20, 2016 Forest Service “Washington Office Activity Review” examined two large Tongass timber sales and found –

• Staggering monetary losses in each, “close to 2 million” in one sale, an amount “more than double the original stumpage” according to a post-harvest Monitoring Report. In the other sale, Forest Service maladministration led to “a reduction in sale value exceeding $1,700,000”;

• Despite being stewardship sales to improve forest health, the agency allowed companies to ignore prescriptions by “favoring removal in the larger diameter, more valuable species groups, such as western red cedar and spruce” while significantly undercutting far less valuable hemlock; and

• Required law enforcement timber theft prevention inspections appear to have been bypassed. Nor could the forest produce a written contract or other “pertinent documentation” for this high-volume sale. That sale also allowed “purchaser selection of trees without prior marking” and the forest’s only follow-on monitoring was completely “reliant on the purchaser’s own data.”

“This national forest runs major commercial timber sales like a cookie jar without a lid,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that the review’s call for “an independent review [to] inform solutions and prevent similar issues in future timber and stewardship contracts” has run into a stone wall. “These reports read as if some Forest Service staff are coconspirators in wholescale timber fraud.”

Under the Secure Rural Schools program, a portion of all Tongass timber sale proceeds go to local communities and schools. Depressed sale values therefore cost both the U.S. taxpayers and Alaskan schoolkids. PEER is asking the Inspector General for the U.S. Forest Service’s parent agency to perform a “forensic audit” of recent sale proceeds to calculate total losses, as well as recommend steps to ensure that these sales yield the fair market value they are supposed to produce.

These were also stewardship sales using harvests to reach prescribed tree species cut criteria but they lacked any “defined process for independently confirming whether the criteria are being met. This obfuscates the acceptability of the end result.” Another issue the review identified was temporary timber roads improperly left open “for several years following commercial activity.”

“As a businessman, President Trump would presumably not write a sales contract so open-ended that it is tantamount to a license to steal,” added Ruch, pointing out that during the campaign, candidate Trump promised to increase timber jobs, presumably by directing more and larger timber sales from national forests. “We are asking the Senate to extract pledges from the upcoming nominees for the Chief of the Forest Service and the Agriculture Undersecretary for Natural Resources & Environment to ensure that all future timber sales protect both the forest resources and the taxpayer’s pocketbook.”

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Read the Forest Service Timber Sale Review

View Post Harvest Monitoring report

See PEER call for forensic audit

Look at PEER letter to U.S. Senate

Look at long history of commercial timber theft on the Tongass

6 Comments

  1. Personally, I support full transparency, regardless of the outcomes. As a former Timber Sale Administrator, with much of my career spent controlling loggers, you never tell a logger when you (or a proxy) are not going to be within the project area. I know, it is different on an Alaskan island but, two days per week should be the minimum for personal inspections, in that situation. Swapping of trees sometimes occurs but, one should trade value for value, and keep those decisions to a minimum. Good documentation of such agreements should also be required.

  2. Wow. I read the Timber Sale Review document. The PEER press release really stretched the truth on the findings in the report. Shame on PEER.
    Also, Matthew, the title of this blog post is likely to be quite offensive to our Tribal friends. Please, consider your choice of words before writing these posts.

    • Wow. I too, read the Timber Sale Review document.
      In fact I’ve lived adjacent to the sale area of the Tonka Timber Sale for the last 30 years and documented its steady degradation and biological decline in goshawk, marten, wolf, and deer populations. So, I attempted to Appeal the Tonka Timber Sale, in part, on the grounds it would predictably register a final coup de grace to the struggling remnant Sitka blacktail deer population vitally important to local subsistence hunters because the previously abundant deer population of nearby Mitkof Island has remained decimated for the last 45 years as a result of clearcutting its deer winter habitat. The appeal was of course denied by the Petersburg District Ranger, and even before the sale contract was completed, there was an Emergency Closure issued by the Federal Subsistence Office imposing the same draconian restriction of deer season and bag limits as has been imposed on Mitkof Island hunters since the early 1970’s.

      So, first, it should come as no surprise I was shocked at the Timber Sale Review introduction, admitting that the last full review was conducted 16 YEARS AGO despite a well documented prior history of agency misfeasance and timber theft on the Tongass;

      Second, the review introduction began with “Commendations” (!!!), while downplaying the significance of two random investigations of two Ranger Districts on two very significant, very highly consequential timber sales liquidating what little remains of old growth forests on the heavily fragmented and biologically compromised island watersheds of the Tongass National Forest;

      Third, I was shocked having attended several “Stewardship Working Group Meetings in good faith that the Tonka Timber Sale, being the first “Integrated Resource Timber Contract,” was marketed to the public as an economic boon for the District’s rural communities. In fact I and many others, were conned with outright lies by then Petersburg District Ranger, Jason Anderson (whom has since been promoted by the Washington Office to Deputy Supervisor of the Tongass National Forest.) I was shocked that the report documented failures instead of promises of “Stewardship” and local economic benefits. However, the Washington Office was revealing instead, a pattern of disregard, if not a culture of deception and open contempt for agency safeguards to prevent US Taxpayer fraud in the wake of a well documented history of agency-enabled timber theft. (I could go on, but isn’t this enough?)

      So WOW, Bob, frankly, I cannot see how you could read the PEER Report and the referenced Timber Sale Review and other links and not realize that Matthew:

      1) first, had nothing to do with PEER’s coinage of titling using clever, double and triple entendre’ using the verb “scalped,” — but which has several appropriate and disparate contexts — such as acquiring a ‘ticket’ (in this case in the multi-national corporate “game” of asset stripping of finite and highly valuable old growth resources in the public domain for the purposes of foreign raw log export while doubling the value of the “ticket” in collusion with the agency issuing the ticket and yet supposedly regulating the conditions by which the ticket value is realized.

      2) that the practice (“scalped”) you singularly attribute to your “Native Friends” has been practiced far more widely than you apparently understand, revealing your own pale faced Hollywood-entrained biases, and which frankly pale in comparison to the well documented history of the US Military campaign of programmatic genocide tragically perpetrated upon hundreds of unique indigenous Nations across North America, and its systematic massacre of hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children.

      3) Lastly, I differ significantly with your disregard of the detailed 26 discrepancies, failures, and examples of professional malfeasance identified in the review. I encourage you to read a little further regarding the PEER links. As a taxpayer and rural resident depending on the USFS to manage for multiple use and sustainable yield of subsistence resources, it is clear a forensic investigation is in order. The WO report is talking about the theft of millions of taxpayer dollars that rural communities were promised Bob. Your claim of PEER “stretching the truth”clearly, has no shame.

    • Thanks for the advice Bob, but frankly I just simply used the titled that PEER used. So if you have a beef with the title, take it up with PEER.

      Also, looks like David Beebe set you straight with lots of on-the-ground information, which backs up the claims made by PEER (Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility). So, shame on you.

      P.S. From the Dictionary. Seems to be a good use of the word

  3. Taking the above info at face value – this should not have happened – disciplinary action would seem to be appropriate.

    But, according to Bob, we can’t take this at face value. So, untill I know more, I’ll not wade into this water any further.

    • “But, according to Bob, we can’t take this at face value. So, untill I know more, I’ll not wade into this water any further.”

      Frankly, what has Bob offered here, which supposedly counters what PEER and David Beebe have provided?

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