Weyerhaeuser Stole 66,000 Trees, Ex-Investigator Says

Associated Press, The Olympian, December 13, 2003

PORTLAND -- A former U.S. Forest Service investigator testified Friday that Weyerhaeuser Co. stole at least 66,000 healthy trees from Oregon in the early 1990s, but the agency never recovered damages or prosecuted any corporate officials.

Dennis Shrader told a judge that he briefed former Forest Service chief Jack Ward Thomas about the potential scope of the alleged theft, but instead of taking action, the agency disbanded the investigative unit.

Shrader testified that he had feared Weyerhaeuser would exert political pressure on the agency and the Clinton administration, and the decision in April 1995 to disband the Timber Theft Task Force created by Congress in 1991 to investigate the industry suggested his concerns were legitimate.

"The bottom line is, it's one of the largest timber companies in the world," Shrader said of Weyerhaeuser, based in Federal Way.

"When you've got an organization that large, with that kind of clout and that amount of resources, they are able to apply political pressure," Shrader said.

Weyerhaeuser spokesman Frank Mendizabal said the company did mistakenly take some trees that were part of the task force's investigation. But he said the company reported the error to the Forest Service and paid extra for the timber.

Mendizabal also said the company never pressured the Forest Service into disbanding the Timber Theft Task Force.

"We operate in a legal and ethical manner at all times," Mendizabal said in a telephone interview.

The task force's investigation involved salvage logging of dead trees on the Chemult Ranger District in the Winema National Forest in southern Oregon.

Shrader testified that Weyerhaeuser crews would cut healthy or "green" trees along with the dead trees in violation of the timber sale contract.

"They bundled the trees, sometimes 20 trees to a bundle, and I estimated up to 10 trees per bundle were green trees," Shrader said.

He also testified that Weyerhaeuser crews were allowed to log at night, scooping up healthy trees that could not be distinguished from dead trees with the dust and poor lighting for logging crews.

The trees intended for harvest were mostly lodgepole pine that had been killed by fire or by insect damage. The pine trees typically are ground into chips and used to make paper or building products such as particleboard, rather than lumber.

Shrader is among five former agents who claim they were harassed and prevented from doing their jobs, leading to a whistleblower lawsuit that is being heard in Portland by administrative law judge Jeremiah Cassidy of the Merit Systems Protection Board.

Earlier this week, another former investigator, Steven Slagowski, testified he had evidence that huge rafts of logs harvested from the Tongass National Forest in Alaska were diverted and stolen, but that top Forest Service officials ignored his report.

Slagowski and Shrader earlier had served on a team of investigators that won millions of dollars in damages from timber companies that had rigged data at the Columbia River Scaling Bureau, which was responsible for tracking the amount of timber harvested.

But that team was broken up and their support chipped away as Slagowski was sent north to investigate alleged theft in Alaska and Shrader was assigned the Oregon case, both men testified.

Earlier in the trial, Thomas, the former Forest Service chief, denied disbanding the unit in retaliation for timber fraud investigations. He said investigators were reassigned because the unit wasn't performing well.