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Badge of dishonour

Budding young lumberjacks in the Boy Scouts of America may be disappointed to find that there isn't a ‘commercial logging’ badge – but perhaps there should be. An investigation by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer has revealed that Scout administrations across the US have conducted high-impact logging on tens of thousands of acres of forestland, and sold prime woodlands to big timber interests and developers.

For nearly a century, the Boy Scouts have styled themselves as conservationists. ‘The Boy Scouts were green before it was cool to be green,’ says the organization’s national spokesman, Deron Smith. But behind the scenes, Scouting councils have been clear-cutting large areas in and around sensitive forests and streams that provide habitat for a host of protected species, including salmon, wolves and bald eagles. Scout councils have even logged and sold for development properties bequeathed to them by donors who intended that they be used for camping and outdoor recreation.

‘In public, they say they want to teach kids about saving the environment. But in reality, it's all about the money,’ explains Jane Childers, a longtime Scouting volunteer who has fought the logging.

Some Scout leaders and their councils are unrepentant. ‘Our mission is kids, not trees,’ says one executive for the Inland Northwest Council. But the investigation discloses another motive. Some councils have used the extra revenue to make up for funding lost because of their controversial ban on homosexuals and atheists from membership and employment. ‘There’s no question they lost membership and funding because of it,’ says Eugene Grant, President of the Cascade Pacific Council. ‘I think every Council has looked at ways to generate funds... and logging is one of them.’

New Internationalist issue 421 magazine cover This article is from the April 2009 issue of New Internationalist.
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