At the same time the lynx
and grizzly bear scandals were being uncovered, the U.S.
Forest Service was forced to admit still another instance of
providing false information.
The Forest Service is
charged with keeping track of the number of annual visitors
to national forests. When the number of visitors is large,
the Forest Service and environmental activist groups cite
this as evidence the federal government should take more
land from the private domain to add to national forests. The
argument goes that high visitor numbers indicate a public
approval and public demand for far-reaching preservation
High visitor numbers are
also offered as a justification for large increases in the
Forest Service's annual budget.
The Forest Service was
recently forced to admit it has drastically misled Congress
and the general public about the number of visitors to
national forests. The
Forest Service reported 920 million visitors in the year
2000, while the actual number was, at most, 209 million.
The Forest Service argues
that, in a dyslexic-like mishap, the numbers must have been
inadvertently shuffled. However, observers questioned how
the Forest Service--which had access to the true numbers all
along--would not have noticed such a huge discrepancy in its
numbers before submitting them to Congress.
noted Sean Paige of Insight magazine, "the
USFS purposefully padded the figure to advance an agenda
that under former chief Mike Dombeck meant a sharp shift
away from its traditional multiple-use mandate and toward
extreme preservationism. … That agenda could best be
advanced if it appeared that Americans were flocking to
national forests in unprecedented numbers."
administration used the large forest-visitor numbers as the
justification for a dramatic shift in the management
emphasis on the national forests," explained the
American Forest Resource Council in a recent newsletter.
"It was the same flawed data and projections that were
used to justify dramatic reductions in timber-management
programs and to claim that recreation jobs would replace
forest-product jobs in our rural communities. Though timber
cutting was sharply reduced under Dombeck, and other
multiple uses were similarly curtailed, the promised
recreation boom never materialized in forest-bordering
In light of the recently
uncovered lynx and grizzly bear scandals, in addition to
evidence of false or skewed data being deliberately
collected regarding other studies, the Forest Service's
explanation that its false visitation numbers were submitted
by mistake does not convince many Western observers.
"The feeling in the
Clinton administration was that you could play fast and
loose with the facts if you were doing good and important
things, especially when you saw the president lying about
minor and inconsequential things," summarized William
Perry Pendley, president of the Mountain States Legal
Foundation. "I'm sure they thought, 'Hey, we're saving
the wolf and the lynx and endangered species, so the facts