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 https://usfs-public.box.com/s/wpev5b7txyn8idxvtbmpztgp0lqwfoz4.
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 timeframe. (Salary information from the FOIA record and www.openthebooks.com)
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 www.openthebooks.com) 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 http://990s.foundationcenter.org/990_pdf_archive/203/203724466/203724466_201712_990.pdf)
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.
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