California Scouts Logged in Sensitive Areas
Executives of the Boy Scouts of America in California have repeatedly conducted commercial logging on scout lands in environmentally sensitive areas, sometimes drawing sharp criticism from regulators and environmentalists.
That finding is part of a Hearst Newspapers investigation of the Boy Scouts management of wildlands around the country.
In California, the scouts have almost always followed forestry rules in harvesting timber on more than 6,200 acres of land they own, according to public records. They have done no clear-cutting and mainly conduct relatively small "selection" harvests, in which loggers pick each tree to be cut.
Scout leaders say these harvests promote forest health and wildlife habitat, reduce fire hazards and generate income for scout programs. As required by the state's Forest Practice Rules, the nation's most comprehensive logging regulations, the scouts retained licensed foresters to prepare their logging plans and employed professional lumberjacks.
But state officials have found that some scout logging proposals contained incomplete and inaccurate information about potential risks to threatened species like the coho salmon, steelhead trout and the Sonoma tree vole.
And in some instances, councils failed to maintain dirt roads to protect streams from erosion, neglected to mark environmentally important trees to ensure they were not cut and put in unauthorized trails.
Three different state agencies said poorly maintained dirt roads threatened wildlife habitat at Camp Lindblad in the Santa Cruz Mountains.
The Boy Scouts' Mount Diablo Silverado Council, which owns the camp, had a history of failing to maintain roads there, causing erosion that harms streams and fish.
In 2006, the council and a neighbor proposed using camp roads to log in the area. But the state Regional Water Quality Control Board said the roads were "in unacceptably poor condition," citing "plugged culverts, sloughing banks, and diverted waterways."
State Fish and Game inspectors were concerned about erosion from deteriorating roads. Sediment deposits 18 inches thick lined Kings Creek and buried some parts of the streambed, said their June 28, 2006 report.
Snag trees - which have damaged branches and cavities important for wildlife habitat - had not been marked to ensure they would not be cut, it said.
The professional forester retained by the scouts addressed the state's concerns, and only then was the logging plan approved.
In July 2007, the council proposed logging 150 acres at the camp. The water quality board said long-term road maintenance was "still a problem," and the Santa Cruz County Health Services Agency cited evidence that the scouts were allowing vehicles on the dirt roads during wet weather, which causes erosion.
Kevin Collins, of the Lompico Watershed Conservancy environmental group, wrote to the board, "Camp Lindblad's demonstrated lack of ongoing road maintenance in the past is an indicator for the future."
At the board's request, the scouts agreed to a 15-year maintenance program.
Jason Lewis, the camp's program director, denied the scouts had driven on the roads in wet weather. He blamed the bad roads on the severe El Niño rains and mudslides of the 1990s.
"We have worked continuously to try to do repairs," he said. The scouts had other troubles with their proposal to log on 73 acres at the Boulder Creek Scout Reservation, not far from Camp Lindblad.
In a March 16, 2007 report, State Fish and Game inspectors said the scouts' Pacific Skyline Council logging proposal was "incomplete and incorrect." The plan asserted that no sensitive species would be disturbed. But inspectors said that downstream from the logging site, Bear Creek was home to coho salmon.
California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection officials listed 32 concerns with the logging proposal and declined to process it. In June 2007, Cal Fire approved a corrected version.
"We addressed all the issues," said Kent Downing, the council's executive.
The scouts had other problems at Camp Royaneh, atop a ridge near Sonoma County's Russian River.
The slopes drain into a tributary of Austin Creek, which flows into the Russian River. Both streams are home to imperiled coho salmon.
In October 1999, the scouts' San Francisco Bay Area Council proposed logging on 78 acres. But Cal Fire officials returned the plan to the scouts' forester twice, saying the plan failed to fully describe potential impact on "sensitive species."
Environmentalists say that such flawed logging proposals waste public funds by requiring extra review.
"It is inexcusable to expend the taxpayer's money to do that (extra review) for you when you are making money from these projects," said the Sierra Club's Jodi Frediani, who monitors timber plans.
Cal Fire approved a corrected plan in October 2000. But a month later, the forester violated state rules when he failed to remove markers, leading to construction of an unauthorized logging trail. Damage appeared minimal, a Cal Fire inspector wrote.
Ryan DiBernardo, the council's assistant director of field services, said he was unaware of the trail problems. "Everything we are doing is ... in compliance," he said.
The scouts' Redwood Empire Council said its plan to log 73 acres of Camp Masonite-Navarro in Mendocino County posed no environmental problems.
In a Sept. 26, 2005, letter, however, Cal Fire officials said the scouts' forester had failed to detect the presence of the Sonoma tree vole.
A small rodent that lives high in tree canopies, the vole is listed by state and federal agencies as a species of special concern. It's especially vulnerable during logging.
Inspectors directed the scouts to adopt more measures to protect wildlife. A revised logging plan was approved in April 2006.
"We did our darnedest to comply with all the government agencies," said Lee McCann, chairman of the camp's properties committee.
About the series
This series investigates the land-use and conservation practices of the Boy Scouts of America, the nation's largest youth organization and among the largest nonprofit landowners in the United States. The staffs of five Hearst Newspapers - The Chronicle, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, the San Antonio Express-News, the Albany Times-Union and the Houston Chronicle - contributed to this report.
Saturday: Development - In recent decades, camps and other rural properties owned by the Boy Scouts have been sold to real estate developers. At times, the Scouts have spurned bids from environmental groups hoping to preserve the lands.
Sunday: Damming the Little Sur - When operators of a Scout camp allegedly dewatered a pristine California river, the Scouts faced sanctions for despoiling a protected fishery. Then the Scouts turned to friendly politicians.