Timberjay July 26, 1997
Forest Service faces
lawsuit from its own employees
Agency accused of mis-using federal reforestation
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