Boy Scouts’ Pico Blanco camp allegedly ignored rules, killed steelhead.
Monday, February 2, 2009
The Monterey Bay Area chapter of the Boy Scouts of America might need to be stripped of a merit badge.
In a front-page investigative story in The San Francisco Chronicle’s Feb. 1 edition, reporter Seth Rosenfeld reports that Scout officials in charge of Camp Pico Blanco on the Little Sur River used political pressure to circumvent regulations that would have restricted their summer damming of the steelhead-bearing stream.
The Scouts’ seasonal dam, where the boys earn merit badges for swimming and boating, likely killed more than 30 endangered steelhead in the summer of 2002, according to the Chronicle report.
"And when state and federal regulators sought to have the council stop using the dam, Scout executives turned to politicians to whom they had given campaign contributions or with whom they had personal ties,” the article states. “The Scout council avoided fines and quietly secured a favorable settlement agreement that, until now, has obscured a full account of their conduct at Camp Pico Blanco.”
In 2002, officials with the state Department of Fish and Game and the federal National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration attempted to stop the Scouts from building their summer dam “because it did not meet environmental standards,” the article states.
So Scout officials turned to then-state Sen. Bruce McPherson (R-Santa Cruz) and, later, U.S. Rep. Sam Farr (D-Carmel), both of whom received campaign contributions from chapter leaders. The politicians contacted the regulating agencies, which then did an about-face, allowing the Scouts to keep damming the river with mitigating improvements.
The Scouts agreed to fill the dam slowly enough to protect the fish, Rosenfeld writes, but did not follow through. A federal agent found that the dam had cut off the river’s flow, killing at least 30 protected steelhead.
“During the ensuing investigation, Kenneth W. Allen II, the council's executive, and his assistant, [Ron] Walsh, failed to fully cooperate, according to a federal report,” the article states. “…In the end, the fisheries service concluded that the Scout council was responsible for the unauthorized killing of the steelhead: The lake was filled too fast, de-watering the stream and beaching the fish, said a report.”
NOAA threatened to fine the Scouts, but again Farr intervened, Rosenfeld reports. The agency dropped its insistence that the Scouts stop damming the river. Instead, a no-fault settlement agreement between the Scouts and NOAA fisheries “required the council to install a fish ladder; modify the dam's spillway to allow steelhead to migrate upstream; and enhance the stream bed habitat for fish.”
The fish ladder, which a Scout official said cost more than $1 million, is now installed at the edge of the dam.
Reacting to the Chronicle’s story, Farr - a former Boy Scout who attended Camp Pico Blanco - noted that the dam has been there for almost 50 years. "The rules had changed and nobody knew what the rules would be," he says. "All the Boy Scouts asked is how to operate the dam properly."
As for the suggestion that campaign contributions influenced him to help the Scouts, he said: "That's the analogy that I suggested was insulting. It was like somebody on the PTA gave Sam Farr a contribution."