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 Oregon Mountaineering Association
131 NW 4th St. # 258; Corvallis OR 97330
oma@i-world.net
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Oregon Guides and Guide Services

United States Forest Service and the OMA - Part 2

Originally Posted Independence Day, 2003 - Updated as required

It is also important to note that no citations have been issued to anyone for private guiding where a clear client-guide relationship existed and could be established. The only (unsuccessful) citations are for OMA classes.

Background

In the summer of 1999 the United States Forest Service issued citations to a volunteer leader instructing a class for the OMA. The citations were ultimately dropped by the US Attorneys office. That is described on the "Part 1" page, along with many details and much of the apparent conflict of interest behind it on the part of certain government employees.

It turns out that they followed that incident up with a great deal of determination, as well as unlimited funding. In 2001 the US Forest Service had a special agent infiltrate the OMA undercover and take a class and go on a climb. He did all of this, including signing the membership form, under a false name and false pretenses. (Meanwhile timber theft goes unchecked, arson investigations are inadequate and meth labs continue to operate on forest lands. Why a small club offering a few trips per year is so much more imprtant is an important question.) This investigation began shortly after ethics issues concerning CFR 2635 were brought to the attention of the USFS Ethics person at the national level in Washington, giving the strong impression that it may have been, in part, and act of retaliation.

Although the investigation was in 2001, the resulting two citations (both identical to those of 1999) were not served until April of 2003. It seems that the US Attorneys office has had better uses for their time and funding, although in 2003 they finally began addressing this.

We will note that this investigation has hardly been kept secret, despite the large "Privacy" cover page. Certain discussions, questions and behaviors over the past year suddenly made a lot more sense when we learned of this in late April. Much of this apparent disclosure surrounded one of the key figures in the 1999 situation and those who work for him at times.

The Citations   Disposition of Charges   Lessons   Issues   Contacts

The Investigation and Citations

During 2001 a special agent of the US Forest Service, acting undercover and using the false name "Joe Roberts", joined the OMA by signing the membership form and proceeded to enroll in a class and go on a climb. The resulting report, as provided under the legal discovery process, is in excess of 100 pages. They also subpoenaed the bank records of not only the OMA but two other organizations entirely unrelated to the OMA or any alleged actions. This is believed to be indicative of an ulterior motive. (All the OMA records will tell anyone is that we are small and have close to no money!)

The agent who carried out the investigation is no longer with the Forest Service and appears to have left Oregon. It has now landed on the desk of another special agent from the Gifford Pinchot forest (Mt Adams). Why it ended up there is unclear since we have never had anything to do with that national forest.

The investigation report is filled with potential charges such as "Major Computer Fraud Against the United States". (Because we run a website !?) Most of this is rather bizarre considering we are a climbing club which had about 50 or so members that year. Most of these charges appear to be the result of a brainstorming session to come up with as many ways as possible to "throw the book". There is more than a little bit of vengeance behind this, a fact that has been clearly acknowledged both directly and indirectly.

Given the current state of paranoia being maintained by the US Government this is more than a little bit unsettling. When they threatened to subpoena bank records in 1999 none of the attorneys we spoke to thought that would happen.At least one attorney was amazed that they were ultimately able to do so over such a petty matter. How they justified this cannot be determined unless the agency complies with our Freedom of Information requests, which they clearly will not do, or unless we file a supplementary discovery request with the US Attorneys office, which we have not yet been inclined to do.

Perhaps some or all of the brainstormed potential charges could potentially be filed, and everything else up to this point is certainly bizarre enough. However, the practical result of this investigation so far has been the issuing of two more "petty offense" citations identical to those which were attempted in 1999. These remain unprosecuted to this day.

Disposition of the Citations

This was in progress last summer. The US Attorneys office assigned it to a full Assistant US Attorney rather than the law clerk who usually handles petty offenses. While he claimed he would prosecute the charges if necessary (presumably bringing the investigating agent back from out of state) all parties involved were agreed that a voluntary settlement could be in the interest of everyone.

While the terms of a potential agreement were discussed nothing was ever finalized. The proposed terms included payment of permit fees that would have been charged had they simply issued a permit to begin with as well as reimbursement of the special agents membership and course fees (!). (They spend into 6 digits on an investigation and want under $200 back in reimbursements?)

Lessons Learned

There is not much to add to this right now over what we learned in 1999. Once it is resolved there may be.

Issues to Consider

There are plenty of issues underlying this matter which need to be addressed. This will need to wait until the legal matter is settled, but we do have specific contact names with the offices of Senator Smith and Representative DeFazio and will be having them make inquiries concerning some of the questions raised by this. According to Forest Service Manual 5322.2 all undercover operations are supposed to have a written plan, which requires the approval of the Special Agent in Charge for the region. We submitted a Freedom of Information Act / Privacy Act request for the relevant records in hopes of starting towards some answers. This request was denied, as expected. Their list of reasons and FOIA exceptions makes it clear that they do not intend to release this at all - they clearly do not want the facts to be available to the public. Since this investigation followed a letter to the national-level ethics person concerning violations of CFR 2635 (conflicts of interest) a letter is being prepared to her inquiring as to how that letter was handled.

The strongest basis for denying these requests to make policy information public is that the case is not closed. Therefore we may have to file supplemental discovery requests through the the US Attorneys office and see what happens. Or subpoena information as important to a legal case.

One issue is obviously the prioritization of resource utilization within the Forest Service. They claim (when looking for appropriations, anyway) to have one special agent for every 600 square miles of their land - to investigate arson, tree theft (including old growth), meth labs, and other serious matters. Why have two special agents been directed to spend time infiltrating a climbing club of about 50 people which ran 4-5 outings that year and had a budget of about $2500 (according to their own bank record analysis)? If you are opposed to the demonstration fees (aka trailhead taxes) then this is a question you should ask your representatives when expressing your opinion on the issue.

This also raises the issue of precedent, once again. Other clubs charge nominal fees for their classes, along the lines of what the OMA has done. This is a way to cover equipment and other related costs. If they can do this to the OMA or one of its leaders they can do it to others as well. Perhaps they will never have the same motivation or level of vengeance, but if they do their ability act on it is validated. One of the participants in an investigated class is a leader in another club which charged a similar amount for a mountaineering class held in part on the Mt Hood forest.

Contacts

Here are some addresses to write to, or numbers to call if you wish. Copies to the OMA (and/or summaries of any phone discussions) will be greatly appreciated.

Note that elected officials cannot intervene in any way in an ongoing legal matter, and will not even make inquiries of agencies on behalf of a person involved in a legal matter. However, they can seek answers on questions concerning policy, fiscal responsibility, etc on behalf of anyone not personally involved. While staff members at the offices of Senator Smith and Rep DeFazio have expressed a willingness to pursue questions from constituents on issues related to this matter we must note that neither office has taken any position on any legal matters. They are willing to listen to constituents views and concerns on the conduct of public officials and the use of resources by an agency which they are constantly receiving appropriations requests from. We can provide the names of the staff member to speak with in each office upon request. (Wydens office has been uninterested and could not provide a specific contact person.)

Rep Peter DeFazio
800-944-9603
151 West 7th Ave. Suite 400 Eugene OR 97401

Sen. Gordon Smith
503-326-3386
211 East 7th Ave. Room 202 Eugene OR 97401

Sen. Ron Wyden
541-431-0229
151 West 7th Ave. Suite 435 Eugene OR 97401

There is also additional information available to those who are seriously interested, including approximately 16 pages which summarize and respond to the various charges in the investigation, summarize the membership and activities of the OMA during the years in question, and list issues to be pursued. Contact the OMA concerning this, at oma @ i-world.net

Unlike the Forest Service, which continues to deny document requests, we have nothing we are trying to hide.

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