Recreational Access and Conservation - Conservation and Public Service Activities
| Introduction | News | Notices | Activities | Education | Forums | Columns | Links |

Dedicated to conservation and multiple use of public lands for recreation opportunities.

Edited by: John Stewart

California Wilderness Coalition Controversy Grows

May 31, 2002

by: John Stewart

An independent group recreation advocates has been investigating the California Wilderness Coalition (CWC) and their involvement with the California Wild Heritage Act of 2002 proposed by Senator Boxer, D-CA.

Initially exposed was conflict of interest on the part of U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) employees and CWC that involves the misuse of the USGS logo and official titles of employees on a lobbying letter to California Governor Gray Davis. In that letter, dated 30 April 2001, a group of individuals claiming to be “scientists” signed a letter to Governor Davis advocating support for habitat areas and linking corridors for wildlife in the state of California. This letter was based on conclusions from a 79 page report entitled ‘Missing Linkages’ detailing the primary wildlife migration routes in the state of California. As reported in the San Francisco Chronicle on 7 August 2001, the report was the product of an ad hoc committee supported by the California Wilderness Coalition, the U.S. Geological Survey, the Nature Conservancy, the Center for the Reproduction of Endangered Species, and the California Department of Parks and Recreation that met in November of 2000. The report and letter were prominently displayed on CWC web site for a number of months.

The letter to Governor Davis featured the logos of the USGS and the California Department of Parks and Recreation along with the logos of the CWC and the Nature Conservancy in an effort to lobby the governor’s support of their agenda of linkage of wildlife habitat areas identified in the Missing Linkages report. In addition to numerous signatures of individuals representing environmental organizations, the letter contained the names and official titles of federal employees from USGS, U.S .Forest Service (USFS), and Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and signatures and official titles of California State Parks and California Department of Parks and Recreation employees.

In response to an inquiry to the USGS, Director Grout reported that the CWC did not have authority to use the USGS logo and the USGS employees were “junior level employees” that signed a blank piece of paper. These signatures, along with their official titles and the USGS logo, were improperly placed on the letter by the CWC without the knowledge or approval of the employees or the USGS. When CWC became aware of the inquiry into the improper use of the official logo of the USGS, they modified the letter posted to their web site. The modifications consisted of the removal of the USGS logo and the signatures of the “junior level employees” of the USGS that had signed the letter as “concerned scientists”. On 27 February 2002, an addendum posted to the CWC web site “regretted the error” in improperly using the logo and names of the USGS employees.

Federal statues (5 CFR 2635-702(c)) are explicit. Federal employees are allowed to participate in political activities as PRIVATE citizens. They may not use their public office to influence legislation or lobby political agendas. According to federal statue, the federal employees would be in violation of federal law if they signed the letter in their official capacity and authorized the use of their names in their official capacity. The CWC used the signatures of the USGS employees without their permission and misrepresented the USGS sponsorship of the Missing Linkages report. The USFS and BLM employees are in apparent violation of federal statute as their signatures and official titles appear on the letter.

Research of the California statutes covering conflict of interest and ethical conduct by state employees indicates that the logo for the California Department of Parks and Recreation and the use of official titles by state employees is a conflict of interest when used for other than official state business. The California Department of Parks and Recreation logo appears on this letter along with the signatures and OFFICIAL TITLES of some state employees. The state employees are in positions that could influence the decision affecting state lands and access to the public and achieve a “personal gain”. Like the federal statutes, California statutes prohibit state employees from using their official position for personal gain. The letter to Governor Davis is a directed lobbying effort and the state employees signing is in apparent violation of state statutes of using their official office for personal gain; i.e. they are using their official title to lobby the state for a personal belief. The use of the official logo is also an apparent misrepresentation of “official” state support for the letter subject.

California state records list the CWC as a 501(c)(3) organization. With that organization charter, CWC is allowed to engage in certain activities, including limited lobbying. They are not allowed to engage in “substantial” lobbying or other effort to develop or influence legislation without claiming such activities as a “substantial” function when filing their income tax forms. IRS regulations state “if a substantial part of the activities of the organization consist of carrying on propaganda or otherwise ‘attempting to influence legislation’, the organization’s exemption from federal income tax will be denied”. CWC tax records for the year 2000 do not reflect their filing for that special status. However, within that tax year, they sponsored the “conference” that lead to the Missing Linkages report, a directed lobbying effort, and, within that time frame, they were actively engaged in developing the legislation presented by California Senator Boxer as the California Wild Heritage Act of 2002. To further compound the issue, CWC is not a registered lobbyist organization with the State of California or federal government.

The evidence to date indicates that federal employees for the USFS and BLM violated federal statutes covering ethics and conflict of interest and employees of the State of California violated state statutes covering ethics and conflict of interest.

CWC engaged in an effort to submit a directed lobbying letter to California Governor Davis which includes improper use of official logos of the USGS and California Department of Parks and Recreation and signatures of federal and state employees in violation of federal and state statutes. The signatures and official titles of the USGS employees were placed on the letter without their approval.

CWC violated their tax exempt charter by engaging in substantial directed lobbying efforts through organizing the conference, submitting the letter to Governor Davis, and participating in the development of legislation not permitted from a 501(c)(3) organization.

We believe these facts contributed to Paul Spitler's resignation from his position as Executive Director of the California Wilderness Coalition.

In response to an inquiry to Vice President Cheney, this information has been referred to the Justice Department for review.

Senator Boxer’s office was provided with this information detailing allegations of violation of state and federal statutes, fraud, and tax violations along with a request for an investigation. A certified letter receipt acknowledged her office received the information. When asked for a comment, Tom Bohigian, Chief of Staff for Senator Boxer, replied, “We’re not interested.”

Supporting validation of the truth behind these allegations, the California Wilderness Coalition has started to remove information from their web site. One page removed from their web site states:

"The California Wilderness Coalition (CWC) is implementing The Wildlands Project vision in the Golden State.

The first stage of this effort are the mapping meetings we will hold throughout the state. The purpose of these mapping meetings is to gather conservation activists, scientists, and other folks who care about wild California together to map areas critical for the reservation and restoration of biological diversity and wilderness. These maps are not meant to be scientifically valid, peer-reviewed documents. Rather, the maps are meant to assist the conservation community in identifying priority areas for preservation and restoration.

The second stage is the establishment of regional workgroups to implement The Wildlands Project's vision. We intend to help create such workgroups in the northern Sierra, southern Sierra, desert, south coast, north coast, and central coast. These workgroups will identify over the years to come ways to make The Wildlands Project Vision a reality in their local areas."

The result of these “mapping meetings” was the legislation, “California Wild Heritage Act of 2002” (S2535) introduced by Senator Boxer on 21 May 2002.

While information is being removed from their web site, archive copies of the CWC web site dated September 7, 2001, April 17, 2002 and May 10, 2002 have been collected.

Related Links: