Wildlife Research Institute
Non-Profit Research and Education Since 1971

The White Pine Society

White Pine News

Timberjay July 26, 1997

Forest Service faces lawsuit from its own employees

Agency accused of mis-using federal reforestation funds
By Marshall Helmberger

Superior National Forest has been targeted in a federal lawsuit, filed Wednesday, that claims the Forest Service has misused federal funds.
   The suit, brought by the group Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics (FSEEE), alleges that the Forest Service has routinely and illegally charged taxpayers instead of timber companies for the costs of replanting and repairing damage caused by logging on national forests. The Suit also charges that the agency illegally diverts tens of millions of dollars earmarked for reforestation in to a “secret slush fund” to pay for expenses like rent, phone bills, and managers’ salaries.
Specifically, the lawsuit contends that the Forest Service diverts about $73 million a year for overhead from funds collected under the authority of a little-known 1930 law called the Knutson-Vandenberg(K-V) Act. The law allows the Forest Service to charge purchasers of timber a premium to pay for restoring and repairing the logged-over land.
   According to an FSEEE press release, the group recently completed a study that showed hat 36 cents of every dollar that the Forest Service collects under the K-V Act is spent on overhead. The group contends that the act makes no allowance to use the funds for such purposes.
   “The Forest Service’s illegal use of these funds is malfeasance of the first order,” FSEEE executive director Andy Stahl said. “It robs taxpayers, it hurts the health of the land, and it’s all done for the sake of fattening the Forest Service’s budget.”
   The group contends the misuse of K-V funds is rampant throughout the agency, but the lawsuit specifically targets the Superior National Forest, and two other forests. The group contends that these three forests have diverted over $3.9 million from reforestation to overhead during the last three years.
   According to Stahl, the situation on the Superior is no different than on other forests. “Out of 156 forests, 155 misuse these funds,” he said. Stahl said a two-year old GAO report, states that the Superior collected $1.067 million in K-V funds in 1994 and spent 34 percent on overhead and administration.
   “It’s not only excessive, but the Congress already appropriates money for overhead and administration,” said Stahl. He said the agency has used the money to pay top administrators, while replanting and other forest improvement projects go unfounded.
   According to the group’s press release FSEEE has obtained internal Forest Service documents that show that Superior National Forest employees are well aware of the problem. In one document, an employee preparing a plan to use K-V funds to help restore a logged-over area wrote, “It is painfully obvious our overhead costs are extremely to(o) high.”
   Stahl said Forest Service staff members on the Superior really don’t have a choice about the use of the funds. “It’s foisted on them by the Washington and regional office,” he said.
   Superior National Forest spokesperson Mark Van Every said he could make little comment at this point. “We obviously have an interest in using our funds as efficiently as possible. We’ll be looking into it,” he said.

Timberjay – July 26, 1997