Struggling Oregon county spent $490,000 in federal safety net money on pro-timber video, animal trapping

Douglas County, in southwestern Oregon, is so broke it had to close all its public libraries earlier this year.

However, according to an investigation in the Oregonian, Douglas County Commissioners “have awarded Communities for Healthy Forests a total of $490,000 in federal money over the last two years, $250,000 of it to make videos. Only one has been released.”

After originally reading the story, I went to Guidestar and looked up the most recent 990 tax report for Communities for Healthy Forests. Turns out, according to their 2015 990 report to the IRS, Communities for Healthy Forests paid their executive director, Javier Goirigolzarri, $77,258 in 2015 for a 30 hour work week. That comes to almost $50 an hour.

Below is the opening few paragraphs of the Oregonian story. Click here to read the entire thing.

The six-minute video opens to ominous music and burning trees. After the flames are out, a narrator says, forests suffer from devastating neglect, turning into a “vast sea of dead, charred trees” that aren’t reforested because of a maze of confusing, contradictory environmental regulations.

The music brightens as the answer appears: Salvage logging. The video concludes by urging viewers to call their elected officials “and tell them these federal lands… are too valuable to simply walk away.”

The clip credits a tiny nonprofit called Communities for Healthy Forests and went online in early September, a day before Oregon Republican Rep. Greg Walden introduced a bill to harvest trees burned this summer in the Columbia River Gorge. Timber companies support the plan.

It’s become routine for cryptically named interest groups to push changes in federal policy that industry wants. The surprising twist this time: Federal money paid for it.

Douglas County, a local government so broke it closed all its public libraries earlier this year, funded Communities for Healthy Forests to create the video. And it did so with federal safety net money meant to ease rural Oregon’s dependence on timber revenue.

Commissioners have awarded Communities for Healthy Forests a total of $490,000 in federal money over the last two years, $250,000 of it to make videos. Only one has been released.

The Douglas County commission’s spending raises questions about a federal program called Secure Rural Schools, which has suffered from a lack of oversight since it was co-authored in 2000 by Sen. Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat.

27 Comments

    • Typical response from you Larry. Do you see a difference between a non-profit raising funds from their members, and a non-profit getting almost 1/2 a million bucks in Federal Secure Rural Schools (taxpayer) money?

    • It is a comparison of the ways that the public is bilked out of money, by both sides. I see plenty of hypocrisy coming from both extremes. Part of it is “pendulum swing” but, part of it is the idea that the end justifies the means. The spin has intensified, especially from the Republican side. Neither of the polarized sides see the complexities involved, and the issues that need to be dealt with. I’d even go so far as to say that it looks like fake Facebook profiles are being created to use as ‘sockpuppets’, supporting or attacking forest-related postings. Both extremes support further polarization, it seems.

      The key is more education, and the powers that be are not supporting their causes in public arenas. It is clear that America is not yet ‘progressive’ enough to accept site-specific forest management.

  1. So, the purpose of the post is what? Is forest policy now supposed to include policing the spending of county governments? Should we start litigating misuse of federal funds?

    Or is this just a tattle tale piece demonstrating that enviro’s are good and everyone else is bad. What is the purpose of this post? What are we supposed to do with this insight?

    I don’t see what this has to do with a New Century of Forest Policy.

  2. Having read this article earlier this week in the Oregonian, to me, it has to do with forest policy that is providing “safety net” payments to counties who have seen their funds for roads and schools decline drastically due to the relatively sharp downturn in federal timber harvest. The Secure Rural Schools Act provides funding to counties above and beyond the 25% (from the Forest Service) that they receive on timber harvest. If a county decides to participate in that program, they also receive additional funds (Title II and Title III). Title II funds are used to pay for specific types of projects that benefit federal lands – a RAC (Resource Advisory Committee) decides how to allocate those funds among proposed projects. Those funds go to the Forest Service, and they administer Title II. Title III funds go to the counties, and there are specific types of work that can be funded with those funds. The Forest Service is audited on Title II funds. But the counties are apparently not audited on how they spend the Title III funds, and they are not spending those funds in accordance with the law. Title II funds do a lot of good work on the ground for the Forest Service, and many counties have used their Title III funds to do some great things for their counties that also comply with the law.

  3. Nobody ever said county commissioners always do the right thing. It is really sad to see the beautiful library in Roseburg closed. But, after seeing hundreds of millions spent burning up the Umpqua National Forest every summer, killing millions of old growth trees, closing roads, destroying recreational opportunities, and filling the sky with smoke, one feels a urgency to do something to change the way our forests are managed.

  4. Follow-up stories by the same reporter indicate that Douglas County also used funds designated for after-school education for several DC lobbying trips, and Rep Earl Blumenhauer has asked for an audit.
    http://www.oregonlive.com/environment/index.ssf/2017/09/county_safety_net_money_paid_f.html
    http://www.oregonlive.com/environment/index.ssf/2017/09/earl_blumenauer_says_rural_cou.html

    The reference above to Douglas County logging their parks is about Busenbeck Park where the county logged 33 acres, including old growth trees several hundred years old.
    http://www.nrtoday.com/news/environment/parks/timber-sale-at-busenbark-park-generates-controversy/article_391f0862-057d-11e6-adbf-b331fd97c69b.html

    Douglas County thinks they are above the law and immune from accountability.

      • Please stop being the blog policeman Gil. This post is about the Secure Rural Schools Act and federal public lands policy.

        So, if the largest newspaper in a given state is covering an issue, which the state auditor is also investigating, it shouldn’t be posted on this blog? Whatever. There’s no way I’ll abide by your ‘rule.’ This post is entirely within the purvey of this blog.

      • Matthew

        1) From The Oregonian @ http://www.oregonlive.com/environment/index.ssf/2017/09/county_safety_net_money_paid_f.html
        “County budgets do not specify precisely how Title III money has been used. They show only that Title III money went into a departmental budget that pays county commissioners’ travel expenses as well as their $77,000 annual salaries and office expenses.”
        –> How can you say that they violated the law when counties use a pooled funds budget that hasn’t been audited? Did you add up all true educational expenses for the year and find the total to be less for the funds received that concern you? If budgeted/actual educational spending equaled or exceeded the total title III funds received then they didn’t violate the law since the law does not seem to specify that the funds must be used as an addition to some base level established by previous years educational spending/budgeting. So the policy problem is the need to control the spending of gov’t handouts. Considering the gov’t success at doing that, the best policy, imho, would be to stop gov’t handouts since policing them would add significantly to the cost of the handouts.

        2) From The Oregonian @ http://www.oregonlive.com/environment/index.ssf/2017/09/struggling_oregon_county_spent.html
        “David Bergendorf, the U.S. Forest Service’s manager overseeing the program, said his agency has no legal basis to track county spending. While counties must sign a form certifying they’ve properly spent the money, they are not required to submit any proof.
        “That’s not in the law and we have to follow the law as it’s written,” Bergendorf said. “We can’t start over-interpreting the law. Congress could certainly write that in, but they never did.””
        –> An unenforced law or one with no teeth is not a law. I’ll bet that you don’t know many people who complain about the police not enforcing speed limits because of the well established knowledge that there is an unwritten leeway of 5 to 10mph over the speed limit before enforcement generally occurs.

        3) From The Oregonian @ http://www.oregonlive.com/environment/index.ssf/2017/09/earl_blumenauer_says_rural_cou.html
        “Oregon Democrat Ron Wyden, the U.S. senator who helped create the Secure Rural Schools program in 2000, has said previously that The Oregonian/OregonLive’s findings would spur him to ensure counties are held accountable for their spending if the program is renewed.”
        –> So appropriate action is already being lined up “if the program is renewed” otherwise it is a moot question (i.e. water over the dam and under the bridge).

        –>–> So it all seems pretty subjective and it would have been quite helpful if you had focused on the need to re-institute the law with appropriate changes (“if the” (Secure Rural Schools) “program is renewed”) instead of indirectly implying that the commissioners were violating the law.

        It also would have been helpful to omit the bit about “Busenbark Park” and the “Public Libraries” which have nothing to do with any possible violation of an unenforced law. Their inclusion implies that all county budgets/spending/actions should be approved by a board of enviro’s because the county commissioners are so untrustworthy while enviro’s are so trustworthy. So, as I said previously, this post offered nothing constructive as posted.

        Your’s Truly,
        “the blog policeman” 🙂

        P.S. When was asking questions and wondering out loud a police action? Seems like you are the one trying to silence those you deem to be the opposition. If a post assumes that everybody already knows about all of the background on an issue then there is no need for the post. If the author of the post makes denigrating comments in regard questions asked then there is no need for the post.
        “Just Say’n”

        • Ha ha!

          P.S. You claim I said “that they violated the law.” Wrong! I never said that.

          P.P.S. I also said zero about “Busenbark Park.”

          P.P.P.S. I’m still laughing at you! 🙂

          • Laugh away!

            Re:“Busenbark Park.” Your author sure did.

            Re: “violated the law” if you and the author didn’t imply it then the post was totally without purpose so, again, why did you bother to post it at all?

            • FACT: Rob Davis works for the Oregonian newspaper. He’s not my author, as you claim. I never even heard of Rob Davis before I read his investigative piece. In case you missed it, the Oregonian is the largest paper in Oregon and considered the state-wide newspaper.

              As I’ve already told you, this post is about the Secure Rural Schools Act and federal public lands policy. You may not like this post being on this blog, but I couldn’t possibly care any less about that. Cheers.

              • You posted him, he’s your author. You still won’t say what you expected to accomplish with this post in terms of “Secure Rural Schools Act and federal public lands policy” especially since you admit that nothing illegal was done. Until you do explain, it’s just snipe and run.

                • Give it a rest Gil.

                  I don’t “admit that nothing illegal was done.”

                  But that’s also much different than you claiming I said “that they violated the law.” I never said either of those things. So knock it off, dude.

                  As a longtime contributor and moderator on this blog (much longer than yourself) I will also continue to post whatever I want on this blog on issues related to federal forest policy. Cheers.

                  • Matthew (AKA: “The blog policeman”)

                    Nice to know that I’m supposed to kowtow to you and knock of my suggestions – fat chance.

                    Re your comment: “You claim I said “that they violated the law.” Wrong! I never said that.”
                    –> Nor did I say any such thing as you claim – The gist of what I said was that the tone of the post implied violation of the law. Otherwise there would have been no reason to mention the law.

                    Re your comment: “I don’t “admit that nothing illegal was done.””
                    –> So “it depends upon what the meaning of the word “is” is.”
                    –> So your implication by posting this is that something illegal was done and if not it was very bad even though it wasn’t against the law. In that case you’d be saying that your sense of what is right and wrong is superior to the law and we can’t guess what your sense is. So once again you refuse to tell me what you wanted us to get out of this post.
                    –> Either you are conflicted and self contradictory or twisted and devious while being unable to be consistent in what you say/imply. Why won’t you tell us straight out what you believe is wrong and what is right instead of making us read the tone of the post and guess why you posted it.

                    Can’t you see why we have no idea what point you tried to make unless you spell it out.

                    So, for the millionth time since I joined this blog, my suggestion is that you knock off the dissembling, innuendo and obfuscation?

                    • FWIW: Above in a comment address to me Gil said: “How can you say that they violated the law….”

                      Again, I never said that. But Gil clearly made the accusation.

  5. Gil, some people post just for bait, some post to further their following’s cause. Both belong on facebook not here, but that’s just my opinion. There’s been several comments regarding citing links to validate etc, on numerous posts here, this one is just another good example of someone using others ideas to fill the void of their own lack of original thoughts, this is backed by not owning the cited authors own words. The article in the Oregonian was hand fed to the reporter by supporters of the proposed Home Rule Charter in Douglas County, my guess is that some of the supporters might even be associates of Matthew, maybe not. Regardless, the real issue behind the story really has nothing to do with the funding of a video, just as this post likely has nothing to do with forest policy. Those in opposition of the Charter have used the phrase “Stop Extreme Enviromentalist”, which seems offensive to those that the shoe fits. Even if it has to do with money from the Department of Agriculture, the money is not tied to forest management, and while education could be tied to forest management there is no requirement that the education has anything to do with any natural resources. The money definitely didn’t come from Timber Receipts since the receipts don’t even cover the operating cost of the agency, it’s just another appropriation of tax dollars. The supporters of the Home Rule Charter, who are doing everything they can to oust the current Douglas County Commissioners were the root of the story, the fact that the Oregonian reported it without further digging is on par with this post being on a forest policy blog…………… (now I’ll spit the hook back out)

    • FWIW: I never have heard of “Home Rule Charter” until right now. My biggest, and really only that I can think of, connection to Douglas County, Oregon might be the fact that a very dear childhood friend of mine from Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin ended up owning a bunch of small farms and forested properties in Douglas County around Drain and Elkton. He had massive heart attack, at age 41, while playing a pick-up game of basketball in Eugene 5 years ago. Some of his ashes were buried in a small cemetery just outside of Drain, as his wife and two little girls, and many shocked and dazed friends, wept in dis-believe.

      • So it appears that the poster, like the reporter, jumped on a story with out checking the facts or lack of facts. It’s sad that people let their agenda overshadow the real issue. Maybe it would be good to stick with topics of forest policy and leave the spending of educational appropriations to other sites?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *