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San Francisco Chronicle, January 30, 2009

Scout councils defend logging of their lands
By Lewis Kamb, Hearst Newspapers

For nearly a century, the Boy Scouts of America have proudly described themselves as campside conservationists, good stewards of the land.

"The Boy Scouts were green before it was cool to be green," said national spokesman Deron Smith.

But in recent decades, local Boy Scout councils around the nation have ordered clear-cutting or other high-impact logging on tens of thousands of acres of forestland they own, often in a quest for a different kind of green: cash.

A Hearst Newspapers investigation has found dozens of cases in which the scouts ordered the logging of prime woodlands or sold them to big timber interests and developers, turning quick money instead of seeking ways to save the trees.

"In public, they say they want to teach kids about saving the environment," said Jane Childers, a longtime scouting volunteer in Washington state who has fought against scouts' logging. "But in reality, it's all about the money."

Scout councils nationwide have hired loggers to carry out clear-cutting and salvage harvests in ecosystems that provided habitat for a host of protected species, including salmon, timber wolves, bald eagles and spotted owls, records show.

At times, the scout councils have logged or sold wild properties that had been bequeathed specifically for use as scout camps.

In some cases, councils have sought revenues from logging or land sales to make up for funding lost because of the organization's controversial bans on gays and atheists.

"The Boy Scouts had to suffer the consequences for sticking by their moral values," said Eugene Grant, president of the Portland, Ore., Cascade Pacific Council's board of directors. "There's no question" that the Scouts' anti-gay, anti-atheist stance has cost the organization money, he said. As a result, he said, "every council has looked at ways to generate funds ... and logging is one of them."

The scouts insist they manage the wild lands they own with sensitivity and care.

But the investigation - a nationwide review by five newspapers of more than 400 timber harvests, court papers, property records, tax filings and other documents since 1990 - also found that:

-- Scout councils have ordered the logging of more than 34,000 acres of forests - perhaps far more, as forestry records nationwide are incomplete.

-- More than 100 scout groups - one-third of all Boy Scouts councils nationwide - have conducted timber harvests.

-- Councils logged in or near protected wildlife habitat at least 53 times.

-- Councils have authorized at least 60 clear-cutting operations and 35 salvage harvests, logging practices that some experts say harm the environment but maximize profits.

A renewable resource

Scout officials generally defended logging as sound land stewardship. Trees are a renewable resource, said some, and the income from logging is put back into scouting, providing needed funds to underwrite programs and maintain scout camps and other properties.

Forestry records confirm that many councils practice only sustainable forestry. They selectively log to remove hazard trees, reduce fire risks and improve habitat, records show. With the help of professional foresters, dozens of councils have implemented long-range management plans to better manage woodlands, records also show. But the investigation also revealed that some stewardship plans were ignored. Most scout timber harvests were relatively small - 50 to 100 acres - and occurred mainly in the Western timber states. But scout councils across the country have authorized logging, Hearst Newspapers found.

"Every time (a council) gets a new scout director, they call a state forester to come out and see if there is any good timber to harvest," said Paul Tauke, Iowa state forester. "There's always pressure to make money."

Some scout councils say they have reluctantly resorted to logging simply to shore up sagging operating budgets.

"I butchered the property," said Bruce Faller, a district commissioner for a Vermont scout council, describing a 2006 logging operation he ordered for financial reasons. "It was old, big beautiful wood ... I wouldn't have done it if there (were) any other way."

26 logging councils

Others unabashedly identify themselves as logging councils that manage scout camps as for-profit tree farms.

The Cascade Pacific Council in Portland, Ore., and the Andrew Jackson Council in Jackson, Miss., are among 26 councils nationwide that log camps as tree farms under what they view as sustainable management plans.

"This is pine country," said Arnold Landry, the Mississippi council executive. "We cut when it's best for us to cut. We replant and ... make the best use of the property."

Properly managed logging is simply another resource councils can tap, some say, in an era when funding is hard to find.

"People talk about what a bad, evil, horrible thing it is to cut a tree," said Tim McCandless, executive for the Spokane, Wash., Inland Northwest Council. "But our mission is kids, not trees."

In southwest Washington, along a gravel county road, a denuded hillside piled with logging debris at the Pacific Harbor Council's Camp Delezene offers testament to how, even amid today's stagnant timber markets, trees are like gold.

The scout council obtained $140,000 by clear-cutting 12 acres of 80 year-old Douglas fir, said scout volunteer Douglas Dorr. The income allowed the scouts to put a new roof on the old lodge at the camp and make other improvements. The logging was done by the book, he said.

But a conservation biologist hired by Hearst Newspapers to review the project said the scouts' logging broke state rules meant to protect endangered salmon in a nearby stream.

"There are blatant rules violations here," said the consultant, Chris Mendoza. He said the council failed to leave a buffer zone of trees along the bank of the stream and on the slopes of a hillside - measures that would have protected the stream from mudslides and erosion.

"These were some big, valuable trees," Mendoza said. "It looks like they wanted to take as many as possible and broke the rules to do it."

Council officials disagreed, saying the logging followed all regulations and was thoughtfully planned to minimize impact.

The logging at Camp Delezene was one of several cases in which scouts were criticized for allegedly deviating from environmental laws, forestry rules or rules written into logging plans.

"It pays to do that," said Mendoza, who has worked for timber corporations and also serves on a state forest practices committee. "Some landowners are more prone to bending the rules, because if they get away with it, it can mean hundreds of thousands of dollars."

Smith, the Boy Scouts national spokesman, says the scouts are not just out to make a buck at the environment's expense.

The scouts are "good stewards of their resources," he said.

Funding scout programs

Among nonprofit groups, the scouts are perhaps the nation's biggest landowners, some scout officials say. How their land is used is largely left up to administrators and volunteer board members running the 304 local scouting councils. Tapping a council's assets, such as timber, can help ensure that there's money to fund scout programs, scout officials say.

In California, scout councils often cited moneymaking as an important goal of logging projects proposed for scout wildlands. Public records show that the foresters hired by the scouts to log their properties have usually followed California forestry rules. But critics caution that forestry agencies - even in heavily regulated timber states like California - can be lax in enforcement.

Around the country, critics have complained that logging operations on scout lands weren't conducted as promised.

Logging carried out by the Central Minnesota Council at its Parker Scout Reservation north of St. Cloud in 2005-2007 earned the scouts more than $100,000, records show, but it also drew complaints. One neighbor said she thought the project would be low-impact.

"I have watched with horror the devastation being exacted on the camp," neighbor Mary Novakowski wrote to a state forester. "The equipment being used has moved through the forest crushing many small trees that might have had a chance to benefit from the open canopy."

Logging at Virginia's Pipsico Scout Reservation led to a "direct discharge" of sediment into a pond and Chesapeake Bay, degrading waters and harming fish, a consultant's report said.

On a remote hillside in the Siskiyou National Forest in southwest Oregon, the McCaleb Scout Ranch overlooks the pristine Illinois River, an unobstructed stream with wild runs of salmon and steelhead.

Salvage logging

Officially declared a state Scenic Waterway in 1970, the Illinois made the nation's list of Wild and Scenic Rivers in 1984.

Nevertheless, the Crater Lake Council conducted widespread logging at its camp after the huge Biscuit Fire in 2002. More than six years later, a massive mound of logging debris remained piled on a ravine's edge above the protected salmon stream. "They savagely logged it," Roy Keene, a former timber industry forester-turned-activist, said of the scout camp.

Council officials say that after the wildfire, they simply salvaged what revenues they could from the scorched but still valuable timber at the camp. They used the revenue - $67,000 - to rebuild camp buildings lost in the fire. But a growing number of forestry experts say such post-catastrophe logging is ecologically harmful.

The case is among at least 35 salvage harvests conducted by scouting groups nationwide since 1990, Hearst found.

"Salvage logging is almost never a positive for ecological recovery," said Jerry Franklin, professor of ecosystem analysis for the University of Washington's College of Forestry. "It is done to salvage economic values."

Recent scout-pursued salvage harvests have occurred in Georgia, California, New York, Montana and Pennsylvania after hurricanes, tornadoes, ice storms and insect infestations. After fires in 1999 and 2002, the scouts' National Council conducted by far the largest of scout salvage harvests reviewed - in all, nearly 3,400 acres - at the nation's premier scouting camp, the Philmont Scout Reservation in New Mexico.

Some critics say the 2002 salvage at the McCaleb Ranch on Oregon's Illinois River never should have happened anyway.

"The old woman who donated that property to the scouts had entered into an agreement with the state to protect it from logging," said Keene, senior forester for the Institute of Wildlife Protection

"No trees, shrubs, or brush shall be destroyed, cut, or removed from the restricted area without a written permit from (the state)," according to the 1974 easement signed by the donor, the late Betty McCaleb.

Nevertheless, the state gave the scout council permission to cut all "fire-killed trees of merchantable size" from the 106-acre ranch just a couple weeks after the fire burned across it.

Jan Houck, a parks official who approved the plan, said such logging "isn't necessarily prohibited" under the easement, "it just needs our permission first."

Scout council executive Rick Burr, who was hired after the logging, defended the harvest as "a one-time deal."

"The money from the (timber) sale was used to rebuild the structures," he said.

To critics, it was a dispiriting transaction.

"I've got nothing against the Boy Scouts," said Joseph Vaile, an Oregon environmental activist. "But it was really disheartening to see clear-cut logging right next to a Wild and Scenic River."

Lewis Kamb is a reporter at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Chronicle staff writer Seth Rosenfeld, San Antonio Express-News reporter Todd Bensman, Albany Times-Union reporter Nadja Drost, Houston Chronicle reporter Lise Olsen, Seattle Post-Intelligencer reporter Daniel Lathrop and Post-Intelligencer news researcher Marsha Milroy contributed to this report.

© 2009 Hearst Communications Inc.

Photo © Paul S. Hamilton