Pet travel, flight upgrades, meeting with a conspiracy theorist: How a struggling Oregon county spent federal safety net money

The investigative reporters at the Oregonian continue to uncover some very questionable actions by politicians who want to dramatically increase industrial logging on U.S. Forest Service lands. Previous on this blog, we highlighted the fact that Douglas County spent nearly 1/2 million dollars of Secure Rural Schools money on on a pro-timber industry video and animal trapping. Below are some clips from the latest piece by Rob Davis, which was published this week:

They bought first-class and premium airfare. One paid to travel with his dog. They’ve eaten at banquet award dinners. One expensed a $200 meal at a lounge. They’ve attended governing and timber industry conferences around the country, staying in Jackson Hole, Sunriver, Skamania Lodge and Sun Valley.

These are examples of how Douglas County commissioners spent $43,000 in federal money meant to help their struggling county over the past five years. The trips were underwritten by the Secure Rural Schools program, which pays jurisdictions like Douglas County that suffered financially after endangered species listings curtailed federal logging.

The money was supposed to be spent on firefighting, wildfire planning and search and rescue efforts. Instead it was spent on behalf of leaders in a county so broke that it shut down all its libraries in 2017. Much of their federally funded travel was to lobby Congress against restrictions on federal logging.

Douglas County charged The Oregonian/OregonLive $2,000 for the records that reveal these questionable expenditures. The newsroom paid the fee. The county delivered the documents and said the request was closed, then demanded another $700 after a reporter asked questions about the spending detailed in them.

Commissioners said their expenditures were proper and that the U.S. Forest Service, which disburses the federal money, audits the spending.

The Forest Service does not perform such audits, its officials have previously said.

One commissioner, Chris Boice, traveled for two nights in November 2016 to a remote outpost in Arizona to talk about forest management policy with Doyel Shamley, a natural resources consultant who’s also a far-right conspiracy theorist. A 2014 profile of Shamley in Mother Jones described him as believing “UFO sightings are a false-flag operation by the Illuminati to accumulate more power.”….

Hundreds of pages of records obtained by The Oregonian/OregonLive show Douglas County’s commissioners have used the federal money to pay for expenses that have nothing to do with firefighting or wildfire planning….The national Secure Rural Schools program has given $3 billion to Oregon counties since Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, co-authored legislation creating it in 2000.


4 thoughts on “Pet travel, flight upgrades, meeting with a conspiracy theorist: How a struggling Oregon county spent federal safety net money”

  1. I read this in this morning’s issue of Bend’s “The Bulletin” and find it absolutely deplorable as well as representative of the public-be-damned egocentricity exemplified by the current White House occupant.

  2. Usually I try not to be cynical, but the idea that some elected officials misspend public funds is.. well.. not surprising to me. I don’t think it would be at all as interesting if they had misspent it on .. a contract with their buddies for something… their mistress or male equivalent.. or so on.

    My understanding is that for title III money (I’ve never completely understood Secure Rural Schools) the counties have to certify to the FS each year that they spent the $ correctly. The FS doesn’t audit. Don’t know if that’s (certifying versus auditing) in the statute, regs, or policy. Does anyone else know?

    • I’m not sure about SRS but, it used to be that the County would get 25% of the timber sale proceeds, for schools and for road mitigation (due to log trucks). It always seemed to me that once the Forest Service handed off the money, they must assume that the County would spend it on those items. It becomes none of the Forest Service’s business how it is really being spent. From what I understand, Counties would spend it on whatever was needed, at the time. I’m sure that some Counties used to have nice totals, back in the 80’s. Not so much, now. One of my old Ranger Districts went from 65 million per year, down to 5 million per year.

      • The purpose of SRS was to ease the large drop in the amount of the 25% timber sale proceeds. Title I is the same as what you are referring to. But SRS also added Title II and Title III funds. Title II funds can be used for specific types of work – and a RAC (Resource Advisory Committee) determines which projects to fund. Title III stays with the county and there are specific purposes for those funds as well. Most of the counties that I am familiar with used their Title III funds (that is the subject of the Douglas County article) appropriately and have some good things to show for it. As the recipient of Title III funds at one time, I had to document everything and the county clerk kept a tight rein on what I did with those funds. But Douglas County in particular seemed to feel that Title III entitled them to spend it on other things under the “after-school forestry education” part of Title III. The “after-school forestry education” was dropped from Title III with the first renewal of the SRS.


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