Records reveal Forest Service’s suspicious ways

Let’s talk numbers.

22: inches of fresh snow Wolf Creek Ski Area reported as of Wednesday morning.

69,701: pages of public records opponents of the Pillage at Wolf Creek just received from the federal government.

2: over-caffeinated lawyers reading those 69,701 pages so we can knock some sense into the Forest Service in court and save Wolf Creek Pass.

There’s nothing quite like pulling back the veil on arcane and obscured processes used by a small cadre of federal employees determined to ignore the public interest. To see what we’ve always known they were hiding in Technicolor, what can I say? It’s like mashing up blinding rage with righteous elation. Exhausting with an afterglow.

The stuff we’re wading through – the internal memos, the email correspondences, the general internal dysfunction used to justify giving treasured and ecologically-vital public land to a Texas billionaire – it’s juicy.

Here’s one of my favorites so far: In response to a flurry of emails opposing the development, there’s a fascinating exchange between Forest Service District Ranger Tom Malecek, Public Affairs Officer Mike Blakeman and former Forest Planner Dave Dyer. They apparently decided that public input received outside the official comment period could be deleted from the official project record because it does not “support and/or help to define the rationale for this decision.”

Did you catch that? If a member of the public sent in comments against the proposed development outside of the official comment period, a practice encouraged by a Forest Service that is “always open to comments,” those comments were omitted from the project record for consideration in the decision-making process.

If that rationale sounds tortured to you, good. You’re obviously not trying to justify a pre-determined outcome under a thin veneer of legality.

Here’s another: Apparently, Red McCombs, the guy trying to pillage Wolf Creek Pass, was getting frustrated by the Forest Service’s speed of service. According to his consultants, Red threatened to “begin making calls to his friends in Washington.”

How did the Forest Service respond to this developer pressure and potential end run? They were instructed to give project proponents Rio Grande Forest Supervisor Dan Dallas’ cell number for what I can only guess would be a better customer service experience.

Wow. I need better friends in Washington. The uber-connected get cellphone numbers; the rest of us have to sue to get documents that were rightfully ours to begin with, only to see those cellphone digits redacted.

If you’re a Forest Service employee, it’s possible this column leaves a bad taste in your mouth. You might protest that not all Forest Service employees are bending over backward to please power brokers.

And I would completely agree with you. But here’s the crummy part: The great work of the many is easily tainted by the dastardly actions of the few.

It’s time for the Forest Service to clear its agency of the bad apples that give federal employees everywhere a bad name.

Said another way, why give us the pleasure of pointing out the bad actors? Take the initiative and point them out yourselves. I do believe that’s exactly what the Whistleblower Protection Act is good for.

Wondering what else we’re uncovering in that stack of documents? You could wait and read our filings with the federal court, but where’s the fun in that?

We’ve gone ahead and posted the entire Administrative Record on our website. Even better, we’ll be sharing best-of-the-worst highlights via social media as we find them.

Visit www.sanjuancitizens.org/wolf-creek to learn more and get in the loop. This story is only going to get better.

Dan Olson is executive director of the San Juan Citizens Alliance. Email him at [email protected].


This content first published in The Durango Herald’s Thinking Green Column here.

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