Service concealed logging records

WASHINGTON (AP) — Combing through 11,000 pages of court documents, environmentalists trying to stop logging in part of the Snake River basin found records the Forest Service claimed didn’t exist about a grove of centuries-old trees.
Then they came across a letter that really sparked their interest: a request from Boise Cascade Corp. asking the government to keep secret its plans to log that stretch of forest.
Forest Service officials deny they hid information from their survey of the old-growth trees. Boise Cascade said it feared terrorists might sabotage equipment if they learned of the logging plans.
“I’ve never seen anything like it in my life,” said Tom Woodbury, an attorney for the Idaho Sporting Congress, one of the plaintiffs in a federal lawsuit challenging the logging. He sees a conspiracy between Boise Cascade and the Forest Service “to defraud the public.”
In the months following Boise Cascade’s 1995 request to log in the Payette National Forest in Idaho on the east side of Hells Canyon near the Idaho-Oregon border, the Forest Service twice denied it had the information conservationists were seeking about surveys of the old-growth groves.
“There are no records available,” Forest Service regional boss Dale Bosworth of Ogden, Utah, wrote on June 20, 1995.
But subsequently, the agency turned over to U.S. Magistrate Mikel Williams in Boise records showing that it inspected the 840-acre grove back in 1992, when one of its surveyors wrote, “From what we’ve seen, this stand appears to be entirely old-growth from end to end.”
The survey indicates that some trees were more than three centuries old, with a circumference of 21 inches or more.
The Forest Service also released an April 24, 1995 letter from Boise Cascade’s regional logging manager, Robert W. Crawford, with this plea:
“We respectfully request that documents and information concerning this timber sale not be released to anybody under the Freedom of Information Act or any other laws that appear to require release.”
Officials of the big timber company based in Boise, Idaho, said they were worried that if details of the logging plan got out, eco-terrorists could locate and sabotage their contractors’ equipment.
“At the time, there had been a lot of activity, a lot of damage done to equipment by activists. We had some real concerns,” said company spokesman Doug Bartels.
Forest Service officials said Boise Cascade’s request had no bearing on the way they responded to Freedom of Information requests from anti-logging groups. The failure to disclose the 1992 survey was a mix-up, they say.
“Anybody can send a letter, but it has no influence on the releasing of FOIA information,” said Miera Crawford, Forest Service spokeswoman for the Payette and no relation to Robert Crawford at Boise Cascade.
None of the old-growth data now emerging was included in the Forest Service’s formal environmental impact statement for the proposed logging and road building over the 840-acre area.
About a third of the trees in that grove have been logged. The rest still stand pending the outcome of the environmentalists’ challenge.
“We caught them lying. They had these documents all along,” said Ron Mitchell, executive director of the Idaho Sporting Congress based in Boise.
Marc Haws, civil chief for the U.S. attorney’s office in Boise who is defending the Forest Service in the case, said the regional office in Ogden, Utah, where the FOIA request was sent “did not have the data.
“We are talking about thousands and thousands of documents,” Haws said. “If a particular office doesn’t have the information and doesn’t believe the information exists, that is not a formal denial under FOIA. It wouldn’t be a violation of the law.”