Yes, those poor defenseless Boy Scouts--the evil gays and athieists forced them to illegally clear-cut timber from many of their properties around the country, impact endangered species, and generally harm the environment.
A multi-part investigation now running in Hearst Newspapers reveals a pattern of behavior on Scout-owned lands across the country. The articles claim that the BSA's ban on gays and athiests has had a negative impact on membership and finances and that Councils around the country have been forced to rely more and more on their forest and wilderness holdings for income, often skirting or outright violating environmental regulations and even the original deed of gift. But of course, to hear them tell it, the Scout councils breaking the law are the victims.
More outrage after we cross this stream....
This indepth expose was conducted by reporters from the San Antonio Express-News, Albany Times-Union, Houston Chronicle, San Francisco Chronicle, and Seattle P-I. The report is breathtaking in its scope and not just what it exposes about the Scout Councils logging and environmental practices. It also shines a light on some of the dirty little secrets of Scouting that most people don't know about.
Here are links to the stories in the San Francisco Chronicle:
For nearly a century, the Boy Scouts have worn a self-adorned badge as campsite conservationists and good stewards of the land.
But for decades, local Boy Scouts of America administrations across the country have clearcut or otherwise conducted high-impact logging on tens of thousands of acres of forestland, often for the love of a different kind of green: cash.
A Hearst Newspapers investigation has found dozens of cases over the past 20 years of local Boy Scout councils logging or selling prime woodlands to big timber interests, developers or others, turning quick money and often doing so instead of seeking ways to preserve such lands.
"In public, they say they want to teach kids about saving the environment," said Jane Childers, a longtime Scouting volunteer in Washington who has fought against Scouts' logging. "But in reality, it's all about the money."
For those familiar with Scouting, this is pretty shocking stuff. It goes directly against what many of us have traditionally believed Scouting to stand for--namely playing by the rules and leaving a place better than you found it.
How Scouting Works
The stories also begin to expose a little of how Scouting is run. It is a multi-million-dollar enterprise that is administered by the national BSA office under regional Councils which are independent not-for-profit corporations with an exclusive territory franchised by the BSA. Like many United Way chapters, catholic archdioceses, and other independently run units that are part of a greater whole, the results and policies vary--except for the BSA's discriminatory policy against gays and atheists. This is cast in cement by the BSA with no public deviation allowed, although in practice there is sometimes a degree of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell". And contrary to the rosy picture painted by the BSA, this is having a negative impact on membership and income as mentioned in this report and elsewhere.
In addition, there is a significant governance issue. While individual Packs and Troops have a measure of democracy, the National BSA and the Councils are largely top-down operations. Parents and Packs/Troops have little voice, but the major sponsoring organizations (baptist, lds, and catholic churches, and methodist men's fellowship) have representative that sit on an advisory board, which accounts for much of the BSA's reactionary conservatism. I had a coworker several years ago who was an admin assistant for the Mt. Diablo Council and she said it was the most sexist place she ever worked and they were basically a bunch of overgrown frat boys. W would be right at home.
A Growing Image Problem
All of this comes on the heels of the BSA's hard turn to the right over the past couple of decades and the negative publicity that has resulted from the BSA's anti-gay and anti-atheist stance. They have lost many of their low- or zero-rent sweetheart deals from schools and municipalities and many parents have begun to question their values. Now the BSA's standing as a teacher of values, including honesty, trustworthiness, and conservationism, is subject to more questioning.
Many of the BSA's statements in their extended response to Hearst amount to: you weren't really fair to us, the regional councils ate our homework, we follow the Scout Oath and the Scout Law, and you're being mean to us.
It's also worth noting that three of the top five councils by membership are in Utah. These, along with all the troops sponsored by lds wards across the country account for the mormon church's disproportionate influence in the BSA, and it's right-wing slant.
Scouting has traditionally enjoyed a positive image in American life due to its associations with Capraesque hometown, outdoorsy, cleancut boy-next-door values. But in recent years, the more people know about the BSA, the less they like it. As has been noted repeatedly in diaries on this subject here at DKos, this can be very troubling for progressive parents who don't agree with the BSA's hard-right tilt. Many parents across the spectrum have been troubled by the controversy over inflated membership numbers. Now, I suspect many more will have questions about these Councils' property management and conservation practices.
The BSA basically wants to eat their cake and have it, too. They fought all the way up to the US Supreme Court for the right to discriminate against gays and athiests as a "private organization", even though they did not qualify under SCOTUS' existing precedent. But they want to occupy a very public position in American life, continuing to receive sweetheart deals from schools and municipalities not available to most groups, operate under a Congressional Charter, and have the President serve as their honorary president. And all of this as they continue to move to the right.
There are many things to take away from this expose.
- Many Scout Councils have played fast and loose with environmental laws in their property management and logging practices and taken advantage of lax oversight. They have also logged properties contrary to the spirit of the donor and sometimes even in violation of the deed of gift.
- Clearly the publicity about Scouting's discrimination against gays and atheist scouts and leaders has had an impact on both membership and income.
- Individual Councils (regional governing bodies) vary on compliance with environmental laws. Many of these Councils, which operate essentially as independent franchises of BSA, offer their executives lavish compensation in the $100,000 to over $300,000 range while membership and income decline and programs suffer.
- The BSA, which enjoys the prestige and legal protection of a congressional charter, fails to live up to public perceptions of its historic pro-conservation reputation.
- In contrast to their special place in American Life (most people tend to place them up there with Mom, Apple Pie, and Baseball), when you look under the hood, Scouting isn't quite as exemplary, environmentally conscious, or a good neighbor as its reactionary management would have you believe.
Like many liberal and progressive guys, including other gay men, I have many fond memories of my time in Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts. I only got as far as Second Class Scout, but that was largely due to my undiagnosed ADD and Aspergers, having two troops out of three fail on me, and changing interests when I reached high school. My oldest friend and his wife have their boys in Cub Scouts right now, but they are uncomfortable with the national leadership and have sent back heated responses to requests for support of the BSA's anti-gay policies.
But the BSA has some significant problems. It is trying to reach out to latino boys, notably by adding soccer programs, while they try to stem the downward membership trend. Increasingly, however, they are losing their mainstream status and becoming more and more a conservative organization that is losing touch with some of its core values. It's a shame for the boys, but the BSA is becoming indestinguishable from the right wing and its failed policies, socially, fiscally, and now environmentally.
- If you're interested or concerned, read the full articles. Due to the comprehensive nature of the reporting, there are many instances that are not that big a deal. But some of the bigger infractions are pretty shocking.
- Write LTEs to the various papers carrying this series.
- Write the BSA and share your disapproval with them.
- If you are a Scouting parent, share this with other parents and express your concern to your Pack/Troop leadership, your regional Council, and the BSA. Make it clear that their attempts to sweep this under the carpet and put a smiley face sticker on it aren't good enough.
- Write President Obama and encourage him not to become the BSA honorary president.
- Write your members of Congress and express your concern over the BSA's Congressional Charter. This is a rare honor that should only go to organizations that keep our American values. Discrimination and forest exploitation are not among those values, IMO.
Changed second graph in Intro to better support the diary title.
I highly recommend xrepub's diary along with his many excellent links in the comments below. He offers a wealth of knowledge and experience as a Scout leader and I appreciate his contributions.