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DNR worker's job move spurs call for ethics look

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A Seattle-based environmental group requested Tuesday that the state ethics commission investigate a Department of Natural Resources official who took a job as a timber-industry lobbyist after overseeing a controversial timber-regulation plan.

SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER

Wednesday, March 1, 2006

Robert McClure, P-I Reporter

http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/local/261176_ethics01.html

DNR worker's job move spurs call for ethics look

A Seattle-based environmental group requested Tuesday that the state ethics commission investigate a Department of Natural Resources official who took a job as a timber-industry lobbyist after overseeing a controversial timber-regulation plan.

The Cascade chapter of the Sierra Club said in an eight-page complaint that Debora Munguia's job switch may violate state law.

Days after the state's last document to cement the deal went to the printer in December, Munguia announced she was going to work for the Washington Forest Protection Association, the lobby for Washington's big timber companies.

"We have a strong interest in protecting forestlands and endangered species, and when a state employee who has worked on the (plan) which benefits the timber industry immediately turns around and goes to work for the timber industry, it raises some questions we'd like to have examined," said Becky Stanley, a Sierra Club volunteer who signed the complaint.

Munguia maintains she did nothing wrong.

"I am confident that if there is an investigation, the facts will bear out there has been no ethics violation," she said in an e-mail Tuesday.

The law prohibits a former state official from being involved "in any transaction involving the state in which the former state officer or state employee at any time participated during state employment."

The plan, known as a Habitat Conservation Plan, is expected to win approval soon from federal wildlife authorities. It would give the timber industry 50 years of protection from prosecution under the Endangered Species Act for harming salmon and 49 other kinds of fish.

In exchange, the timber industry agreed to fix forest roads so they don't bleed dirt into streams, to open up large river stretches to spawning salmon that were previously closed off and to leave tree buffers alongside larger streams to keep them cooler and more salmon-friendly.

The plan was based on an agreement worked out among government officials, the timber industry and some tribal interests in 1999. Known as the Forests and Fish Plan, it was blessed by the Washington Legislature.

However, environmentalists never signed off on the deal, which affects private forestland covering about one-fifth of the state. The plan, which Munguia shepherded through the approval process, would be the second-largest such plan in the country.

The deal came in for heavy criticism by the state's Independent Science Panel and in a review organized by the American Fisheries Society and the Society of Ecological Restoration.

Munguia's new job is director of government relations for the timber lobby.

Once the plan is accepted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service, it "seems reasonable to expect" she will represent timber companies as the plan is put into effect, the Sierra Club complaint states.

The ethics commission has never decided a similar case, said Carl Marquardt, the Seattle attorney who filed the complaint on behalf of the Sierra Club. The group, a chapter of the national Sierra Club, represents more than 26,000 environmentalists across much of the state.

A key point will be whether the ongoing implementation of the plan qualifies as a "transaction" that would trigger the state ethics law.

Susan Harris, executive director of the ethics commission, confirmed receipt of the complaint but said she could not comment further on the case.

The commission staff generally investigates by interviewing witnesses and reading documents, she said. Then, if the staff finds "reasonable cause" to believe a violation occurred, it can forward the case to the five-member ethics commission, which is made up of gubernatorial appointees. It has the power to fine violators up to $5,000.

The Sierra Club's Stanley emphasized that Munguia was supposed to be representing the public, not the timber industry, during her tenure at DNR.

"When she was working for the state, she was supposed to be making sure the public's interest in endangered species was being protected." Stanley said.

"It's a concern when we start blurring the lines between who someone is working for."


P-I reporter Robert McClure can be reached at 206-448-8092 or robertmcclure@seattlepi.com.

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