Last year, the U.S. Forest Service earned $300,000 from the sale of your timber on the Tongass National Forest. But, you paid $11 million in tax dollars to build roads accessing that timber. And you paid another $10 million in tax dollars to prepare, sell and administer those timber sales.
Bottom line: you lost over $20 million in 2009 operating the Tongass timber program. Not to mention the incalculable loss of irreplaceable old-growth forests and their fish and wildlife habitat.
Two things need to change to protect our nation’s premiere temperate rainforest. First, we need to end the Tongass logging tax subsidies. Second, we need to clean house within the Tongass National Forest leadership. With your help, we can do both.
Let me tell you what’s happening on the Tongass leadership side. This month, the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) announced that it is re-opening its investigation into the retaliatory actions Tongass managers took against whistleblower Glen Ith. OSC did so because FSEEE asked it to—see the letter from OSC reproduced on page four of this letter.
We were able to make a persuasive case because, together with Glen’s widow, Marketa, we sued the Forest Service to gain access to its in-house investigation documents against Glen. Those hundreds of pages showed a conspiracy of retaliation against Glen orchestrated by Tongass Supervisor Forrest Cole.
We can’t emphasize enough how unusual it is for OSC to take this step. First, OSC rarely investigates those who retaliate against whistleblowers—it hasn’t done so in years. Second, OSC almost never investigates senior-level civil servants, such as forest supervisors. This investigation will likely be one of the most significant OSC has ever undertaken.
We need your help to keep the pressure on OSC and the Forest Service. It is only through your generosity that we’ve made it this far. You helped us bring Marketa Ith’s lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act that uncovered the documents necessary to prosecute this retaliation case. The paper trail we now have is unprecedented in OSC history. OSC itself could not get the internal communications that we obtained through court action.
We need to ensure that OSC does a thorough job in its investigation and that OSC takes action against those who broke the law. More people than just the Tongass forest supervisor are potentially culpable—a wide net will catch a network of retaliators that reaches from the district office all the way to Washington, D.C.
It’s also time to end Tongass logging subsidies. With new Tongass leadership we can do so. Taxpayers lose $20 million each year selling timber on the Tongass. That works out to about $1 million lost for every million-board-feet of timber the Tongass sells. And it’s going to get worse.
The Forest Service now has a new idea—they are going to pay timber companies to remove the trees. The Tongass is so desperate to get a piece of President Obama’s economic stimulus spending that it has come up with the brilliant idea to spend tax dollars paying loggers to remove trees for which there is no market whatsoever. The Forest Service proposes to pay loggers over $2,700 per acre to remove trees from the Tongass!
FSEEE has filed a whistleblower complaint with the USDA’s Office of Inspector General over this illegal waste of economic stimulus dollars.
Saving the Tongass rainforest and ending the building of logging roads into pristine watersheds is as simple as turning off the money spigot. To do that, we need to convince President Obama that logging the Tongass is not only bad for the environment, it’s bad for our government’s balance sheet, too. With deficit spending at all-time record levels and with too many Americans unemployed and requiring governmental assistance, we can’t afford to waste money, especially on projects that destroy our nation’s premier rainforest.
Please consider making a special contribution to FSEEE’s Tongass Defense Fund. I know we can win this fight. We can replace bad Tongass managers who retaliate against employees like Glen Ith who do the right thing. We can end the irrational tax subsidies that, for the past 50 years, have paid for devastating logging on the Tongass.
Feds Reopen Case of Alaska Whistleblower Who Died Days After Forest Service Job Was Eliminated
January 8, 2010
By MARY PEMBERTON / Associated Press Writer / Headline from Los Angeles Times
ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Federal prosecutors who look into the treatment of whistleblowers are reopening the case of an Alaska wildlife biologist who successfully sued the U.S. Forest Service and died of a heart attack days after his job was eliminated.
Glen Ith sued the Forest Service in 2006 over road repairs and bridge building in the Tongass National Forest in southeast Alaska — work that was being done before timber sales were approved and environmental impact work conducted.
The U.S. Office of Special Counsel, an independent government agency tasked with enforcing the Whistleblower Protection Act, said Friday in a letter that it is taking a second look at Ith’s case and whether he was a victim of retaliation. The case was closed in 2008 when the 48-year-old Petersburg man died four days after finding out that he no longer had a job….
The push for the investigation is being led by Ith’s widow, Marketa Ith, and Eugene, Ore.-based Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics, a nonprofit group that Ith turned to for help in 2005 about the road-building in the Tongass.
The nonprofit received a letter …[from] Senior Associate Special Counsel Leonard Dribinsky [who] said he had reviewed e-mails and letters and other exhibits provided by the group and had determined the case should be reopened….
Andy Stahl, the nonprofit’s executive director, said Ith’s widow sued to obtain files that the Forest Service had gathered on her husband…. According to Stahl, the e-mails reveal that Cole justified the reassignment on the grounds that Ith was a plaintiff in a lawsuit against the Forest Service and had created a conflict of interest concerning the work he was hired to do.
Stahl said Cole immediately launched a misconduct investigation into Ith to support his intention to fire him and he considered issuing a formal reprimand.
Two months after Ith’s court victory, he was placed on administrative leave. When Ith’s job was eliminated [four days later], budget cuts were cited as the reason for eliminating the career Forest Service employee’s job.
Ith died on March 3, 2008, 16 months after being suspended from his job.
© 2010 The Associated Press
UPDATE: In October, 2010, the Office of Special Counsel re-closed its investigation into Forest Service retaliation against Glen Ith. OSC said that the Whistleblower Protection Act's burden of proof for seeking discipline against a federal employee who retaliates against a whistleblower is too high a bar for OSC to meet.