By Gregg Boethin former US Forest Service Firefighter
Dear Grant County Residents,
I had really hoped we'd seen the last of the injustice here in Grant County. I thought that after the shame and embarrassment the Forest Service suffered, when its negligence in the Canyon Creek Complex was brought to light, it would be on better behavior. If only for a little while...
I remind you, the Forest Service got away with the Canyon Creek Complex scot-free. It wasn't required to make as much as a single apology to the 43 families who lost their homes to the 100% preventable disaster.
And if that's not enough--if it's not enough to devastate the lives of 43 families, and leave a 113,000 acre black spot in place of a once beautiful forest--now it's shutting us out of it. All so some woodpecker can have its privacy.
And doesn't that make you feel all warm and fuzzy? Knowing that a bunch of woodpeckers can have the time of their lives, choosing their next homes from among 113,000 acres of dead and rotting trees?
Don't you almost wish you could be one of those woodpeckers, who aside from some of the local contractors (who made millions in the Canyon Creek Complex), are about the only living creatures who will ever benefit from such a terrible disaster?
Think about it. Did the deer and elk benefit from the Canyon Creek Complex? Did the hawks and eagles? Did the trout, or steelhead, or salmon?
What about the people of Grant County? Did they benefit from the Canyon Creek Complex?
But then, the people of Grant County don't really matter, as the actions of the Malheur Forest Supervisor, Steve Beverlin, have made abundantly clear.
And now I want to change gears and take you back to Grant County in the 1970s, 80s, even 90s. I was born in 1977 and spent most of my childhood here in the 80s and 90s.
Take a moment and remember a summer day here in the 80s. What was different about Grant County then?
What would you see then, that you don't see anymore?
Well, for one thing, you'd see a lot of log trucks, loaded with logs, en route to a handful of mills, which employed a lot of people.
You'd see a lot of storefronts, open to the public, providing goods and services to the families of people employed by the mills and logging companies.
You'd see classrooms full of students. You'd see a School District adequately funded, thanks largely to an abundance timber receipts.
And now fast forward to today. What's different?
Log trucks are rare sights. All but one mill is closed, and that one, it seems, is always just barely hanging on. Many of the stores and businesses that used to be here are gone. Classrooms are much smaller in attendance, and some schools are closed completely. The School District is severely under-funded.
Life in Grant County is a lot different than it used to be. And most of the differences we see today aren't good ones.
So what happened? Take a moment and imagine a day here in the 70s, 80s, even 90s. Compare it to today, and ask yourself, what happened?
In a nutshell, Grant County took a severe economic beating over the last few decades. And now, in the year 2017, it's in really, really bad shape.
And the next thing I'm going to tell you is very important. What happened here in Grant County didn't happen overnight. It happened bit by bit. One piece at a time, as Johnny Cash might like to say.
One blocked timber sale, then another, resulting in one parked log truck, and then another. Another blocked timber sale, and then another, resulting in more parked log trucks, collecting dust.
The next thing you know a mill shuts down, putting a lot of people out of work.
Another blocked timber sale, and then another, and another parked log truck, and then another, and then another mill shuts down, leaving even more people unemployed.
Meanwhile, as fewer and fewer trees are being harvested, the forest is being neglected. In preventing the removal of trees from the Malheur Forest, the Forest Service is facilitating the unhealthy buildup of fuels, setting the stage for disastrous wildfires like the Canyon Creek Complex.
What do you see in Grant County today that you didn't in the 70s, 80s, and 90s?
Great big ugly black spots, like our view of the once pristine Strawberry Wilderness. Or the Canyon Creek drainage, which won't be green and healthy again in our lifetimes. Just to name a couple...
The actions of the Forest Service have severely damaged Grant County's economy over the last few decades. The Forest Service's mismanagement of the Malheur Forest, and in some cases its gross negligence, have annihilated vast areas of it.
But the Forest Service isn't done! No sir! Now that it's eliminated many of our jobs, and destroyed large areas of the Malheur Forest, and in doing so degraded the way of life for many people and animals here, it's going to start blocking roads and preventing our access to it.
One road at a time. One area at a time.
Always in the name of some poor, endangered species, like a woodpecker, or a species of trout that our government, in its infinite wisdom, poisoned in previous decades.
Do you notice a pattern?
The Forest Service has done everything's it's done, in practically destroying Grant County's economy, and killing many areas of the forest, one step at a time. One timber sale at a time. One mill at a time. One business at a time. One school at a time. One disastrous wildfire at a time.
And now, in 2017, one road at a time, and one area of the forest at a time.
Project forward 20 years and if the Forest Service continues at its current rate, there'll be nothing left here. The entire forest will be black. The roads will be closed and the majority of the forest will be off-limits to Grant County residents, who have long histories here.
Much longer histories, I should add, than the people responsible for this. And to be clear, the people responsible for this aren't the high majority of those people working for the Forest Service, who go to work each day and do their best, and care about the Citizens of Grant County, and the forest.
Those people responsible for this are at the higher levels in the Forest Service. The people at these level are players in a political game, serving THEMSELVES, and no one else.
I'm going to tell you something about the way the Forest Service operates, like many branches of our now very large government. I'm going to tell you how it's gotten away with all the things it has.
The Forest Service has gotten away with so much by avoiding accountability. If there's one thing those people at the decision making level of our government hate, it's accountability. Accountability is to Forest Supervisors, and people on up in the chain, as garlic is to vampires.
The Forest Service, like many branches of our government, avoids accountability by remaining faceless.
People in Grant County have complained about the Forest Service for decades now, but those complaints have had little effect. Why?
Because the "Forest Service" isn't a living, breathing, entity. You can complain about the Forest Service all you want. You can say the nastiest things imaginable about the Forest Service, but it won't hurt the Forest Service's feelings, for the simple fact that the Forest Service doesn't have feelings.
The Forest Service is an organization, and what decision makers in the Forest Service do is hide behind the Forest Service's emblem. They do everything in the name of the Forest Service. And then, when people complain about the things they've done, in the name of the Forest Service, those complaints just roll off the massive, faceless organization who has no feelings or concerns of its own.
Think about it. Who are you supposed to get mad at, for the Forest Service's mismanagement of the Malheur Forest? Most of us know that it's typically an environmental group, who pressures a judge, who rules to block a timber sale. The Forest Service, it seems, is a victim of national politics.
But it's really not. Remember, nearly every decision made affecting the people here in Grant County has to be signed by the Forest Supervisor. The Forest Supervisor does actually have a decision, in whether or not to sign many particular orders.
Further, the Forest Service is supposed to be the expert on our forests. Indeed, many of the people employed by the Forest Service have Masters Degrees, even Ph.D's, in areas related to forestry. These people are, by all rights, the experts on our forests.
So, why should we pay many such people $100,000 per year and more, and not let them have any say on the topic of forest management? Why should their judgment take a backseat to the motives of special interest groups, who don't have degrees in forestry and have proven themselves to be absolutely clueless on the topic of forest management?
The point is that the Forest Service should have more say in regards to the decisions it, as a branch of our government designated to manage our forests, makes. And the Forest Service does actually have more say than it would like to let on.
Again, nearly every order carried about by the Forest Service requires a signature by the Forest Supervisor. This makes the Forest Supervisor an undeniable part in the decision making process. Though, the typical Forest Supervisor doesn't want you to know this.
So what do you do in a case where you have a Forest Supervisor, signing orders, many affecting the lives of people here in Grant County, and hiding behind the Forest Service emblem, and the organization?
What do you with an organization whose members avoid personal accountability like an antibiotic-resistant flesh eating bacteria?
You make somebody accountable, and the obvious person to make accountable in our case is the Forest Supervisor. Because his signature ultimately affects our way of life here, and I remind you that his signature, and the signature of many of his predecessors, haven't affected our way of life for the better.
What I'm doing in this narrative, and this video, and this graphic, is making Steve Beverlin accountable. I'm reminding him that, as big and mighty as he might see himself, he still answers to the people of Grant County. He still has to deal with us.
And I'm going to tell you some things about Steve Beverlin. At the level Steve's at in the Forest Service, he's a politician. Steve has done well for himself in the Forest Service, and he's done well by playing the game.
Don't believe for a second that Steve's childhood aspiration was to end up being the Supervisor of the Malheur Forest. Steve has big plans for HIS career. Steve's ultimate destination is D.C., and he'd like to have been there yesterday. He can't get there quickly enough.
Someone in Steve's position is, once again, looking out for himself, and no one else. Look at his actions in the case of the Canyon Creek Complex for all the evidence you need.
You may be familiar with the plight of the victims of the CCC. Most of these people had mere minutes to evacuate their homes and consequently lost almost everything. In many cases their homeowner's insurance didn't cover all their losses (and remember that many of the things they lost were irreplaceable).
After telling the Blue Mountain Eagle, "the agency has nothing to hide", Steve refused to put himself, or anyone in the fire organization, in the position to openly answer questions about the Canyon Creek Complex. Steve didn't even believe those people whose lives were completely devastated by it deserved to know the truth.
It was only when an article would soon be coming out by the Oregonian regarding the Canyon Creek Complex, which he knew wouldn't shine favorably on the Malheur Forest, that he decided to have a Q and A session for the public. He gave one day notice on Monday of Fair Week, and as a result of the short notice, and the fact that it was Fair Week, many people were unable to attend. Including many of those people who lost their homes and had the right to be there more than anyone.
Further, during that meeting, he allowed Roy Walker, the head of the Malheur Forest fire organization, to take the blame for a decision that might have had an effect on the outcome of the suppression efforts. We should assume that Steve was in the loop on such a decision. And being that he was the highest-ranking decision maker on the Malheur Forest, it was ultimately his decision.
So why didn't Steve come out and say that? Why did Steve make Roy Walker take the blame for this decision, when it was actually his decision, or at least should have been?
Why? Because Steve is only looking out for himself. Not only are the citizens of Grant County completely insignificant to him, but so are the people who work for him. If Steve would throw Roy Walker under the bus then he'd do the same to anyone.
What Steve's doing now, in closing roads, and large areas of forest for the sake of woodpeckers, is scoring points for his next promotion. He's very clearly pushing an environmentalist agenda. An agenda that isn't based in reality, nor one that takes into consideration the People of Grant County, or the health of the Forest.
Steve Beverlin is serving one, and only one person: himself. He's made this abundantly clear, and I believe many of the people working for the Malheur Forest recognize this as well.
That said, and what do we do with Steve Beverlin?
We recall him. Of course, there is no official process to "recall" a federal official like Steve, who wasn't elected. We just make it known that we don't want him here anymore; he's done enough damage and worn his welcome thin. We ask the United States Forest Service for a new Forest Supervisor, and are hopefully provided with one much better at public relations than Steve has proven himself to be.
The Forest Service is going to have to understand that in a situation where its decisions have deep impact on the local population, it's going to have to work with that local population. I remind you, that's the way it was meant to be, according to our constitution, and that's the way it very well should be, and could be.
We have more power here in Grant County than we realize. Our voices are very powerful. The problem is that we don't seem to use them much anymore. I think a lot of the reason for that is that the fact that we've been ignored so long that we don't see the point, and we don't know what do to.
What I'm doing right is showing you what we can do. Here's what you can do.
You can call the Malheur Forest Office (at 541 575-3000), and politely tell whomever answers the phone that you'd like to leave a message for Steve. And then you can politely ask that that message read, "Leave Steve, please. No offense, but we just don't you here anymore." Just make it politely known that you believe it's time for a change in leadership on the Malheur Forest. Because you know it really is, and so do many other people, including a lot of the people working for him.
Or, you can go to the main, Washington D.C. Forest Service Website at:
And send a message to the powers that be there, again politely asking for the replacement of Steve Beverlin.
The other thing you can do is share this video, or give it a simple like, if you agree with the things I've said. I know there's a pretty serious fear of repercussion from speaking out against the federal government here in Grant County. Though I'd like to remind you that after all the trouble I've caused the Forest Service (all 100% legally, by exercising my 1st amendment rights) I'm still walking around.
Remember, it's not just our Forest, or County. It's the Forest, and County of generations to come, and for many of you, that will include your children, grandchildren, and so forth. Any small contribution you make will have an effect, and something you can be proud of.
We're living in an age of unprecedented apathy; with a lot people who just don't care, or expect that someone else will do the dirty work for them. I remind you that here in Grant County, we're all we have. It's been made clear that the County Court won't be of assistance to us. Neither will a state Senator, or Congressman, or the House Oversight Committee.
It's 100% up to us to make things right here in Grant County, and again, not just for us, but for generations to come. Please share this video, or give it a like if it's on facebook. Also consider calling the local Forest Service office and sharing your feelings about its current leadership. Or contact the national office, and send a message expressing your concerns about the Malheur Forest's current leadership.
Thanks for reading or listening!