Jeff DeBonis’ job was to plan federal timber sales. But in 1990, he became a U.S. Forest Service whistleblower trying to protect Oregon’s forests from overcutting.
DeBonis formed the Association of Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics to push reforms from within.
“It was the first employee dissident group to challenge the environmental ethics of the agency,” DeBonis said.
In 1993, he founded Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), a national network that’s become a force in recent political battles over federal and state environmental laws.
PEER has fought U.S. Bureau of Land Management plans to log scrub forests in the Northwest and efforts by Western Republicans to bar the Forest Service from enforcing violations of livestock grazing permits.
This Thursday, DeBonis will speak in Spokane about his experiences - and about a trend that worries him.
“The anti-environmental backlash is strong and growing, especially at the state level,” DeBonis said.
A recent PEER study shows a nationwide pattern where corporations and their political allies are trying to defang environmental agencies, DeBonis said.
“They are trying to break up (agency) enforcement units and force out more experienced people,” he said.
DeBonis left the Forest Service to serve as PEER’s executive director. The group has eight employees in Washington, D.C., and two in Hood River, Ore., where DeBonis lives.
Foundations provide 80 percent of PEER’s budget, and individual memberships make up the rest.
DeBonis is speaking Thursday at a meeting of the Society of Inland Northwest Environmental Scientists. His 7:30 p.m. speech is open to the public and preceded by a 6:30 p.m. social hour at Cavanaugh’s Fourth Avenue, 110 E. Fourth.
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