Can you get a merit badge in clear-cutting?

A Hearst investigative series reveals the Boy Scouts to be chainsaw-wielding maniacs, confirming the author's long suspicion that scouting is a fraud.
Crosscut archive image.

Camping on the shores of Lake Washington around 1900. (Photo: Anders Beer Wilse)

A Hearst investigative series reveals the Boy Scouts to be chainsaw-wielding maniacs, confirming the author's long suspicion that scouting is a fraud.
The Seattle Post-Intelligencer (bless them) is running a Hearst investigative series with major Northwest content documenting the dreadful forest and land management practices of the Boy Scouts. All across the country, the Scouts have been selling land to developers — including land donated to the organization for recreation and forest use. They've also been clearing timber lands on a massive scale nationwide, including in Washington, Oregon and Idaho. The Scouts have long presented an image of an organization that teaches the young to appreciate nature and the outdoors, yet the higher-ups have not been practicing what they preach. Their definition of woodcraft apparently goes far beyond using a hatchet to cut firewood. According to the series opener, "Profit trumps preservation for Boy Scout councils nationwide":

[F]or 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."

P-I reporter Lewis Kamb contributes stories to the series about how the Scouts clearcut 80 acres of land near Hood Canal taking 1.75 million board feet of timber, and how the Scouts also ignored the wishes of an anti-logging property donor and have milked the 400 acres of North Idaho woods he gave them for recreational purposes in order to raise cash from timber sales.

I have railed against the Boy Scouts for a fundamental hypocrisy in moral matters (such as their anti-gay stance). During my Seattle Scouting years, I experienced an organization that was creepy and morally bankrupt. So while the Hearst series doesn't shock me, it confirms a sad truth that Scouting is in many respects the opposite of what it says it is: a morally superior organization of trustworthy people.

Earlier this year, I had the chance to visit Goose Prairie, Washington, the iconic wilderness spot in the Cascades made famous by Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas as the place that nurtured his environmental ethics, his Walden Pond. Elk still browse on the prairie, and cabins and mountains surround it.

But I was rather surprised to see what sits right in the middle of it: a Boy Scout camp that looks a bit like a mini-Fort Lewis plunked down in what was once a paradise. The valley is still beautiful, but I couldn't help but wonder at the judgment of the builders. Which brings me to one of Scouting's dirty secrets. In the 1960s, I experienced the organization as less of a group that fostered nature-lovers in the Teddy Roosevelt or Douglas spirit than as a paramilitary organization that would rather build a boot camp in a sensitive ecological zone. The only saving grace, I suppose, is that they didn't have to log the prairie first.

All this confirms that scouting is, in short, a fraud.


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About the Authors & Contributors

Knute Berger

Knute Berger

Knute “Mossback” Berger is Crosscut's Editor-at-Large.