A concerned citizen submitted this financial information regarding the Your Forest Your Future agreement between the US Forest Service and Salmon Valley Stewardship.
Written and submitted by Evalyn Bennett
This article summarizes results from a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request I filed about the Forest Service-Salmon Valley Stewardship (SVS) partnership called Your Forests Your Future (YFYF). The complete set of FOIA documents can be accessed at this link.
This article focuses on financial information contained on pages 220-243 of the FOIA records.
Invoices submitted by the SVS Director to the Region 4 Forest Service office from January 31, 2017 (beginning of the partnership) to Sept. 30, 2018 total $927,502. When the salary costs of various Forest Service (FS) Intermountain Region and Washington, D.C. office staff that facilitated the partnership are factored in, the partnership easily tops $1 million for that time frame. (Salary information from the FOIA record and Open the Books.)
Forest Service and other funds in addition to these invoiced amounts were almost certainly provided for this partnership. The FOIA records did not include SVS invoices from October 1, 2018 to present (the time the partnership was administered by the FS Washington, D.C. office). I also did not request financial records pertaining to the second cooperator in the agreement, More Than Just Parks. Finally, the YFYF web site refers to corporate and special interest group sponsors and supporters, but there are no records of those contributions in the FOIA documents.
In 2017, while the YFYF partnership's local personnel were busy supposedly promoting diverse public input about Forest plan revision (but actually having very limited contact with the general public in the local planning area), three Salmon-Challis National Forest (SCNF) staff were doing the same public outreach. Taxpayers footed the $436,269 bill for YFYF's 2017 media campaign AND paid a total of $167,362 in salaries for three SCNF employees to engage local citizens in the SCNF plan revision process. (Salary information from Open the Books) Similar Forest Service expenses related to public participation were being incurred throughout the Intermountain Region wherever Forest plan revisions are underway.
If each National Forest has at least three personnel to engage the public in Forest Plan Revision, was the YFYF partnership necessary? If it wasn't, the FS wasted over a million in federal tax dollars.
But someone benefited from this agreement.
The YFYF partnership enabled transfer of significant public funds to SVS to provide the non-profit with "indirect costs" funding, staff, equipment, copyright and right of sale to products, publicity, and national recognition. The cash cost share match from SVS was ZERO. Yet the agreement awarded SVS the copyright and right of sale to the products of the partnership! The YFYF web site, paid for by tax dollars, also has a copyright. Salmon Valley Stewardship's 2017 non-profit status (501c3) Form 990 describes SVS as an "Organization which receives a substantial part of its funding from a government unit or the general public" (emphasis added). The "government unit" is pretty obvious. (See 2017 SVS 990 tax form).
What did the public get for this expenditure of public funds? Duplication of services the FS is already providing via the agency's own personnel (some specifically hired for plan revision). No local public awareness of the YFYF partnership and limited contact with local Forest users. Promotion of a narrow agenda (outdoor recreation and wilderness/wild and scenic rivers designations) that is inconsistent with the full range of multiple uses defined in the Multiple Use Sustained Yield Act of 1960. Products that are of limited (or no) specific value in the planning process (some products are actually tourism films with no narrative content).
This partnership cost over $1 million and substantially benefited Salmon Valley Stewardship, yet yielded virtually no benefits to the local plan revision process. Fortunately the Forest Service has made a decision to terminate the agreement by October 1, 2019.
The Network for Landscape Conservation (NLC) just announced the winners of their Catalyst Fund grants, the funding coming from foundations such as the Hewitt Foundation. Once again, the High Divide is a target.
A grant award of $25,000 over a two year period will be given to expand the High Divide Collaborative (HDC) "capacity", meaning bringing more people on board, by "transitioning a part-time Coordinator position to full time". This will be done to "advance all core functions including a regular meeting schedule of the Coordinating Committee", improve communications, and holding two meetings per year. They are ramping up their plotting strategy.
Apparently, it is also necessary to start new groups, the Forestry and Fire Working Group, and a Wildlife Connectivity Working Group. It will be this Coordinator's responsibility to get these implemented and launched. Instead of this just being a "collective vision", it will now become "collective action". Notice this collectivism is the antithesis of our Republic which is based on the rule of law, and most assuredly does not include those whose perspective does not align with them.
It should be remembered that the HDC Coordinating Committee has previously included the US Forest Service, Lemhi Regional Land Trust, Yellowstone to Yukon, Nature Conservancy, Idaho Fish & Game, Salmon Valley Stewardship, and out of state players, with many other participants. It might be that since their relationships have been exposed through the USFS and SVS partnership, they have chosen to hide the federal affiliation in a more updated committee member list. No doubt, this upcoming meeting in September will include discussion of new strategies to convince area citizens that they have the right solutions for the land. Citizens are warned to not fall for it, especially the wildlife connectivity. Connectivity is only for the sole purpose of redesigning the land with corridors and associated land use restrictions.
There is nothing community based or grounded in these efforts. Their ploy will be "listening" to you in order to "build trust" and lead you to believe you both "share" the same priorities, but in reality their real plan is never revealed in those discussions. Looking at the Heart of the Rockies website gives a true picture of their intentions to tell you how you should be living.
Be on the alert for this, don't fall for or engage in it. This is a major threat to those who live in the High Divide area.
These are the last communications on the YFYF project January through June, 2019. The full document can be found here.
Beginning on page 2 is a discussion by Ms. Townley on how to revamp the website, and continue it with a focus of "helping and regions that are starting forest planning." After all of the communication about citizens being left out of the process and inappropriate relationship with SVS, Ms. Townley is moving forward with the same citizen exclusion.
It appears there are some problems with Ms. Townley's position on page 5, it was advertised incorrectly the first time and she could not be reassigned to the WO (Washington Office) until it was re-advertised. Was it because previously she just arbitrarily renamed her position on her own?
Knowing that federal funding for the website would end, a search for new funding sources begin on page 7, beginning with the National Forest Foundation.
On page 8 is what appears to be an inquiry into the whole process behind the YFYF project. An interview was conducted with Mark Bethke, forest service Director Planning & Budget, and whose name appears in numerous emails throughout the document. Mr. Bethke pointed to Ms. Townley as having the responsibility to obtain approval for the website and its contents. In the very next statement, it is revealed that using third party websites to host forest service materials is "against policy". This whole arrangement between the forest service and SVS to create a website was against forest service policy. How did it advance so far without anyone questioning that?
Although Mr. Bethke stated the forest service logo was removed from the website, it was only after multiple complaints from citizens had been made about it being on there. The person in the WO Office of Communications who allegedly approved this website is never identified. There is a rather cantankerous response by Mr. Bethke when asked if he followed his supervisor's requests to remove items from the website on page 9. In the previous post it was clearly documented that Mr. Bethke's supervisor wanted all material removed from the website and only approved material be posted from there out, something that should be remembered by him.
Page 12 outlines funding of the project during the transition to the WO. The upshot of the whole deal is that this project was being elevated to a national level. As of August 30, 2018 it went national, page 18.
On the last page, page 20, is a letter from Toni Ruth expressing her concern over a letter to the editor by a local citizen, a records request, and questions about an investigation into the project. Does she not understand that if she is in an agreement with the forest service that all interactions are subject to public scrutiny? Does she not understand that our form of government allows citizens to know what government is doing, or spending? If she had not participated in any wrong doing, then why the concern? Perhaps if she had been forthright from the beginning, advising citizens of this agreement as written in the original agreement, it would not be a concern, but she did not let citizens know.
From these records it seems that the idea for this project was the result of a friendships between the forest service and non-profit staff. As a result, without following proper procedure, their idea came to fruition at the cost of almost one million dollars when the forest employee salary is included. This project was also aligned in its mission to promote only one side of how our forests should be used and intended to influence the public on that perspective, all the while excluding citizen input on their perspectives. One could also conjecture that this was all discussed within the High Divide Collaborative, in which the forest service and SVS were members, and then planned for execution during the time of the plan revision. What a perfect time to make an attempt to influence citizens without understanding citizens were not going to follow along with the hatched plan.
In spite of how improperly this project was created, and its bias, it is now at a national level, with your tax dollar used for its creation. The YFYF website has been removed and is redirected to the More Than Just Parks website. But everything that was created with your tax dollar is still being used and the videos produced by SVS are available on Vimeo with the YFYF logo. How much is SVS profiting from this?
This is how our government works now, it is not based on citizen representation, it is a business oriented, product producing organization that is a result of government relationships with private organizations, the essence of "public-private-partnerships". As seen by this partnership, it is the promotion of philosophy by an entity, not citizen representation. That is how decisions are made, predetermined with planned execution times. Unless all of us start addressing this corruption within our government, this new form of government will continue to be in command.