[An aerial view taken Oct. 14 shows loggers harvesting timber at the Pacific Harbors Council's Camp Delezene near Elma.]
Profit trumps preservation for Boy Scout councils nationwide
They logged, sold thousands of acres of prime lands
By LEWIS KAMB
SEATTLE P-I INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER
For nearly a century, the Boy Scouts have worn a self-adorned badge as campsite conservationists and good stewards of the land.
"The Boy Scouts were green before it was cool to be green," said the organization's national spokesman, Deron Smith.
But for decades, local Boy Scouts of America administrations across the country have clearcut or otherwise conducted high-impact logging on tens of thousands of acres of forestland, often for the love of a different kind of green: cash.
A Hearst Newspapers investigation has found dozens of cases over the past 20 years of local Boy Scout councils logging or selling prime woodlands to big timber interests, developers or others, turning quick money and often doing so instead of seeking ways to preserve such lands.
"In public, they say they want to teach kids about saving the environment," said Jane Childers, a longtime Scouting volunteer in Washington who has fought against Scouts' logging. "But in reality, it's all about the money."
Scouting councils nationwide have carried out clearcuts, salvage harvests and other commercial logging in and around sensitive forests, streams and ecosystems that provide habitat for a host of protected species, including salmon, timber wolves, bald eagles and spotted owls.
Boy Scout councils have logged and sold for development properties bequeathed to them by donors who gave the lands with intentions they be used for camping and other outdoor recreation.
In some cases, councils have sought to use revenues from logging or land sales to make up for funding lost because of the organization's controversial bans on gays and atheists from membership and employment rolls.
"The Boy Scouts had to suffer the consequences for sticking by their moral values," said Eugene Grant, president of the Portland-based Cascade Pacific Council's board of directors.
"There's no question they lost membership and funding because of it. I think every council has looked at ways to generate funds ... and logging is one of them."
The investigation -- a nationwide review by five Hearst newspapers of more than 400 timber harvests, court papers, property records, tax filings and other documents since 1990 -- also found:
* Scouting councils have logged across at least 34,000 acres -- a figure that vastly undercounts the actual number of harvests conducted and acreage cut, as forestry records nationwide are incomplete or nonexistent.
* More than 100 Scouting councils have conducted timber harvests -- one-third of all Boy Scout councils nationwide.
* At least 26 councils have logged in areas with or near protected wildlife habitat at least 53 times, a number also underrepresented.
* Councils have conducted at least 60 clearcuts and 35 salvage harvests -- logging that some scholars and ecologists say can hurt the environment and primarily aims to make money.
* Several councils submitted logging plans with inaccurate and incomplete information, and in some cases, disregarded rules or conditions established to protect wildlife, streams or other resources.
* In some cases nationwide, Scout logging and land deals have involved cozy relationships in which Scouting councils have conducted business with current or former Scouting volunteers, their private companies, employers or in one case, a state regulator.
Scouting officials generally defended logging as sound land stewardship that, as a byproduct, has reaped financial rewards to benefit Scouting programs.
Trees are a renewable resource, said some, adding that their councils practice only sustainable forestry. Proceeds are put back into Scouting, mainly to maintain and improve properties at a time when competition is high and availability scarce for nonprofit dollars, they said.
Forestry records uphold such claims in many cases. Some councils selectively logged and thinned trees as a way to remove hazard trees, reduce fire risks, improve habitat and overall create and maintain healthy forests.
Dozens of councils have implemented long-range management plans with assistance from professional foresters to help better manage woodlands, records also show.
But the investigation also revealed stewardship plans that often went ignored, and several plans identified past poor management and a heavy-handed logging tradition on Scout lands.
Top Loggers list
Money also often outweighed stewardship as the main goal -- or was cited among several objectives -- for conducting logging, records show.
"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 and to generate income so they can maintain the camps and keep the activities going."
Yet while financial rewards to help boost shrinking funds or cover needed maintenance were cited as a frequent factor for logging, many Scouting executives at the same time earned high salaries and yearly pay raises that outpaced cost-of-living increases, records show.
Local and regional executives can earn annual compensation of $100,000 to $300,000 per year. At the national level, Scouting executives make even more.
While most local councils say logging revenues primarily go back into properties, administrators say they have discretion in how to use them. Sometimes, the money from logging has gone to shore up sagging operating budgets that cover salaries and other expenses.
"I butchered the property," said Bruce Faller, a district commissioner for a Vermont Scouting council, when explaining how he was forced to cut down trees in 2006 to cover a property's legal expenses. "It was old, big, beautiful wood. ... I wouldn't have done it if there (were) any other way."
The Cascade Pacific Council in Portland, and the Andrew Jackson Council in Jackson, Miss., are among at least 26 councils nationwide that log camps as tree farms for revenue and other reasons 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.
[Tim McCandless, executive of the Inland Northwest Council, tours a clearcut area at Camp Cowles on Diamond Lake on Oct. 3. "(O)ur mission is kids, not trees," he points out.]
"People talk about what a bad, evil, horrible thing it is to cut a tree," said Tim McCandless, executive for the Spokane-based Inland Northwest Council. "But our mission is kids, not trees."
'Bending the rules'
In Southwest Washington, along a gravel county road that gives way to Weyerhaeuser ownership, a denuded hillside piled with logging debris at the Pacific Harbors Council's Camp Delezene offers testament to how, even amid today's stagnant timber markets, trees here are like gold.
On one side of the rustic camp, a new roof on an old lodge serves as a reminder of why a forest of 80-year-old Douglas firs no longer stands on the other side.
The $20,000 spent for the new roof topped the priority list from $140,000 in revenues from last fall's 12-acre clearcut, said Douglas Dorr, a retired Weyerhaeuser construction engineer, who serves as chairman of the Tacoma council's volunteer properties committee.
But to get that money, the Scouts' logging broke state rules meant to protect endangered salmon, a consultant said. The council's logger misidentified the type of waterway next to the harvest site; did not properly define a potentially unstable slope that posed risks of discharging sediment into the waterway, and potentially onto Scouting camp sites; and failed to leave enough trees to meet the required size of buffer next to the waterway, said Chris Mendoza, a conservation biologist hired by Hearst to review the council's logging plan.
Such violations are civil infractions that can warrant warnings, stop-work orders and fines from state regulators. But enforcement of such rules are rare, a state Forestry Department spokeswoman said.
Several other logging cases examined by Hearst show some Scouting councils nationwide have deviated from forestry rules or other conditions imposed on logging plans.
Mendoza, a consultant who has worked with timber companies, environmental groups, and tribal, state and federal governments, has written more than 100 compliance monitoring reports and reviewed hundreds of logging plans. In general, the type of violations he found with the Tacoma council's logging occur commonly among small and medium landowners seeking to increase logging revenues, he said.
"It pays to do that," said Mendoza, who also now serves as a co-chairman of a state forest practices subcommittee analyzing forestry rules. "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, disputes that Scouting organizations are out to make a buck at the environment's expense.
"The Boy Scouts have ... always been good stewards of their resources so they could provide programs for youth," he said.
Some Scouting officials say the Scouts are likely among the biggest landowners among nonprofit groups nationwide. How that land is used is largely left up to administrators and volunteer executive board members running the 304 local Scouting councils around the country.
Local councils are similar to franchises. They pay an annual charter fee to the national council, based in Irving, Texas, to use the Boy Scouts' name and programs. But, as independent nonprofits, they make their own decisions.
Tapping a local council's assets, such as timber, can help local Scouting executives meet yearly job performance goals -- such as increasing yearly revenues -- which, in some cases, can help them achieve pay raises. But Scouting officials say land use is primarily done to keep council coffers full and properties financially healthy.
In California, moneymaking was cited among key objectives by Scouting councils for several recent logging plans that state regulators found to contain major problems, including inaccurate and incomplete information. Scouting executives regularly hire commercial loggers to harvest trees in environmentally sensitive areas, sometimes drawing sharp criticism from community members and environmentalists.
In a few cases in the state, Scouting officials have been accused of failing to maintain roads that then damaged sensitive streams, not marking special trees to ensure they were not cut, building an unauthorized road through a protected area, and improperly operating a summer dam that killed endangered steelhead.
California public records show the Scouts have almost always followed forestry rules in recent logging around the state. But critics caution that forestry agencies -- even in heavily regulated timber states, such as California and Washington -- can be lax in enforcement.
Chris Len, legal director for the Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, an environmental advocacy group that monitors logging in parts of Oregon and California, said he found several flaws when reviewing three state-approved Scout logging plans at Hearst's request.
Len's environmental group typically focuses on much larger-scale logging plans submitted by timber companies or conducted by government agencies on public lands. Although such projects can have more egregious problems, Len said, he quickly noticed several failures with Scouting councils' plans for the much smaller timber harvests.
Among the problems, Len found failures to conduct required endangered species surveys, insufficient analysis of required logging alternatives and inaccurate information about potential wildlife habitat.
"They've got endangered species all over the place, but they are not taking any extra care ... of those species," Len said.
In Washington, which has some of the nation's toughest logging laws -- but rarely enforces them -- Mendoza believes the Pacific Harbors Council's recent clearcut at Camp Delezene violated three rules critical to the protection and restoration of salmon streams. State officials said forestry regulators have conducted "compliance monitoring" in less than 2 percent of all logging cases in Washington since 2006, and have not checked if the logging at Camp Delezene followed state rules.
In its logging plan, the council's hired timber company reported the meandering Delezene Creek next to the harvest site was not a special type of waterway, known as a channel migration zone. Mendoza believes otherwise, saying "it's a classic case" of a channel migration zone.
Mendoza added the plan did not identify or designate a sharply graded hillside as a potentially "steep unstable slope." Such areas pose significant risks of dumping large amounts of sediment and debris into salmon streams, and typically trigger an added environmental review to determine if logging should be allowed.
Mendoza found that should the ground give way in the steep area that the council had logged, there would be "a direct path to deliver sediment and debris" into the protected salmon creek. Such a slope failure also "may pose a potential public safety risk" because of the proximity of several Boy Scouts campsites near the creek, Mendoza concluded.
In addition, Mendoza found a buffer of trees left by the council's logger next to the creek was about 20 feet narrower, on average, than what's required by law. It was far smaller than the buffer that the logger claimed, in paperwork submitted to the state, would be left.
Mendoza's plan review and observations from public access near the harvest site found the council's forester inaccurately reported all three conditions.
"There are blatant rules violations here," Mendoza said. "These were some big, valuable trees. It looks like they wanted to take as many as possible, and broke the rules to do it."
Breaking these forest practice rules allowed more trees to be cut -- "a purely economic decision," Mendoza believes.
Told of Mendoza's findings, council officials disagreed with them, saying that logging met all regulations and was thoughtfully planned to ensure minimal impacts. Only one logging road was built -- to haul timber away from the creek to existing Weyerhaeuser roads.
"The cheapest way would be to pull the timber down the hill and across the stream," said Dorr, the properties committee chairman. "In this case, we did it the best way."
Council officials, who showed journalists part of the clearcut in November, refused to allow Mendoza to visit the site.
"(I)t would be inappropriate to introduce a forester who has not been involved with our council or our property management plans," said board President Jimmy Collins, a Weyerhaeuser executive.
"It speaks volumes that they won't allow an independent third-party audit of what they've done," Mendoza countered.
On a remote hillside within the Siskiyou National Forest in southwest Oregon, the McCaleb Scout Ranch spills up the bank of the pristine Illinois River, an unobstructed stream with runs of wild salmon and steelhead.
Officially declared a state Scenic Waterway in 1970, the Illinois made the nation's list of Wild and Scenic Rivers in 1984.
But despite such designations, the protections they bring and the added safeguards of a scenic easement generally prohibiting logging along this stretch of river, the state approved the Crater Lake Council to conduct widespread logging at its camp after the massive Biscuit Fire in 2002.
"They savagely logged it," said Roy Keene, a former timber industry forester turned activist.
Scouting officials say the council simply salvaged what revenue it could from the scorched but still valuable timber to rebuild structures lost in the wildfire. But a growing number of academics and 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 Forest Resources. "It is done to salvage economic values."
Franklin, one of three co-authors of the 2008 book, "Salvage Logging and Its Ecological Consequences," and other scholars studied salvage logging cases worldwide following hurricanes, insect attacks, floods, volcanic eruptions and fires, including Oregon's Biscuit Fire in 2002.
"Salvage logging and other post-disturbance practices can have profound negative impacts on ecological processes and biodiversity," the book concluded.
Recent Scout salvage harvests have occurred in Georgia, California, New York, Montana and Pennsylvania after tornadoes, fires, ice storms and insect infestations. After several fires, the Scouts' National Council conducted from 1999 through 2004 by far the largest of Scout salvage harvests reviewed -- in all, more than 3,400 acres -- at the nation's premier Scouting camp, the Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico.
Some critics say the 2002 salvage at the McCaleb Ranch never should have happened.
"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 for Wildlife Protection.
Along with the special river designation, the council and the ranch's donor, the late Betty McCaleb, agreed in 1974 to a state scenic easement on the camp, adding further safeguards.
"No trees, shrubs, or brush shall be destroyed, cut or removed from the restricted area without a written permit from (the state)," the easement states.
A logger for the Scouting council submitted plans seeking to log all "fire-killed trees of merchantable size" from the 106-acre ranch just a couple of weeks after the massive fire burned across it.
Jan Houck, an Oregon state parks official who approved the plan, said such logging "isn't necessarily prohibited" under the easement, "it just needs our permission first."
But both state and federal officials who oversee similar easements for land along protected Oregon rivers say logging on as wide a scale as that on the ranch has rarely, if ever, happened before, and can be prohibited.
Hearst also found discrepancies between the McCaleb Ranch logging and conditions imposed on it by state parks. An October site visit revealed a massive mound of logging debris, supposed to be burned years ago, remains piled on a ravine's edge above a protected salmon stream. The Scouts' logger also did not get required parks approval before taking equipment across, and logging near, the salmon creek.
Parks officials concede both issues would run afoul of approved conditions.
"The fact we didn't inspect here was an error," added state parks spokesman Chris Havel, saying his department plans to follow up with the council about Hearst's findings.
Rick Burr, current Crater Council executive who was hired after the logging and said he didn't know much about the project, said the harvest was "a one-time deal."
"The money from the (timber) sale was used to rebuild the structures," he said.
Tax records show the council made $131,000 from logging over two years, and $74,000 in insurance the year of the fire. In 2006, the first year rebuilt structures were assessed, the county valued all ranch buildings at $39,490.
Burr wasn't sure if the Crater Council -- then suffering from funding losses due to the Scouts' ban on gays -- spent all the logging revenue on the ranch, or if some went elsewhere.
Some critics say they understand the need for landowners to make money from logging. But for a high-profile organization such as the Boy Scouts, which touts itself as pro-environment, conducting high-impact, commercial timber harvests that at times violate regulation, or simply push the limits of ecological best practices, smacks of hypocrisy, they say.
"I've got nothing against the Boy Scouts," said Joseph Vaile, an Oregon environmental activist. "But it was really disheartening to see clearcut logging right next to a Wild and Scenic River."
GREEN OR GREEN-WASHED?
Boy Scout officials say the organization is a strong environmental advocate and good steward of land, but some critics say it doesn't practice what it preaches to youths. Here are some of the Scouts' key environmental positions and programs:
Scout Law -- Under Thrifty: "A Scout ... protects and conserves natural resources. He carefully uses time and property."
Outdoor Code -- "As an American, I will do my best to ... be considerate in the outdoors. I will treat public and private property with respect. ... and, (b)e conservation minded. I will learn how to practice good conservation of soil, waters, forests, minerals, grasslands, wildlife, and energy. "
Forestry Merit Badge -- Scouts earn this honor when they can proficiently "describe contributions forests make to ... clean water, clean air, wildlife habitat, fisheries habitat (and) threatened and endangered species," among other requirements.
Soil and Water Conservation Merit Badge Scouts earn this honor when they can proficiently describe "erosion-control practices," and "(e)xplain how removal of vegetation will affect the way water runs off a watershed," among other requirements.
Leave No Trace -- The Scouts promote Leave No Trace, the outdoor ethics guidelines that seek to minimize impacts by calling on campers and hikers to, among other things, "respect wildlife."
P-I reporter Lewis Kamb can be reached at 206-448-8336 or email@example.com. San Antonio Express-News reporter Todd Bensman; Albany Times-Union reporter Nadja Drost; Houston Chronicle reporter Lise Olsen; San Francisco Chronicle reporter Seth Rosenfeld; Seattle P-I reporter Daniel Lathrop and P-I news researcher Marsha Milroy contributed to this report.