Eight Idaho environmental groups want the federal General Accounting Office to investigate a U.S. Forest Service study of hundreds of landslides that occurred on the Clearwater Forest the past two winters.
Idaho’s congressional delegation is being asked to initiate the GAO study in a letter mailed Friday by groups including the Idaho Conservation League, the Ecology Center and Friends of the Clearwater.
“A GAO investigation would expose scientific gaps and show the report was a waste of taxpayers money - to the tune of $200,000,” said Larry McLaud, of the conservation league.
The Forest Service didn’t dig deep enough into the causes of the slides, came up with faulty conclusions and used people with conflicts of interest to analyze the landslides, the groups contend. A timber company hydrologist was involved in the study as well as a former Forest Service employee who originally was involved in building many of the roads that turned into mush and spilled off the mountainsides, the groups say.
The Forest Service isn’t bothered by the prospect of a GAO probe.
“I don’t feel there’s anything we’d be defensive about,” said Doug McClelland, who spearheaded the study for the Forest Service from the regional headquarters in Missoula. “I don’t see that there’s a lot of substance that they have brought up.
“In any of these, you would be able to find some aspects you don’t agree with,” McClelland said.
In all of the Forest Service studies done of recent mudslides in the Pacific Northwest, “I think ours is one of the best,” he added.
The Forest Service spent two years and approximately $192,000 looking at nearly 1,000 landslides on the Clearwater National Forest. The analysis relied upon aerial photos instead of ground surveys because of the magnitude of the project, the agency said.
That arms-length method, however, is one of the main reasons the study was so flawed, said Charles Pezeshki of the Clearwater Biodiversity Project.
Other critics say the Forest Service failed to consider where a combination of clearcuts and roads caused the slides.
The coalition of environmental groups wrote a similar letter of complaint to Forest Service Chief Mike Dombeck in December, saying that the study was leading to more of the same style of logging and road projects that caused the slides.
Dombeck has not replied.