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Report Alleges Neglect by Forest Official

Resources: Group says Los Padres ignores its artifacts and retaliates against employees who complain. Supervisor denies accusations.

October 09, 2002|DAVID KELLY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Los Padres National Forest, home to one of the nation's largest collections of prehistoric artifacts, has ignored and damaged its cultural treasures while retaliating against employees who have complained, according to a report released Tuesday by a national watchdog group representing whistle-blowers.

In its 18-page report, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility blames the alleged neglect on Los Padres supervisor Jeanine Derby. It recommends a thorough investigation of Derby's "hostility" to historic preservation and her "retaliation against outspoken cultural resources personnel."

Derby vigorously denied the accusations. However, she said they would be investigated.

"These things disappoint me because there are other avenues for employees to take their complaints," she said, admitting the process is slow and frustrating.

Los Padres National Forest, encompassing 1.7 million acres from Ventura County north through Big Sur, is the ancient home of the Chumash, Salinan and Esselen Indian tribes.

Forest Service volunteers and staff members are charged with recording ancient sites so that firefighters, heavy equipment operators and others using the forest can avoid the sites. They also try to keep out looters looking to steal Indian artifacts and vandals who deface rock paintings.

Key historical areas are sometimes signed and fenced to keep the public out. During construction projects, monitors are supposed to be used to make sure no archeological materials are destroyed.

Derby professed a lifelong interest in ancient Native American cultures and said she has always tried to quickly deal with mistakes in Forest Service programs wherever they are discovered.

"We could use more money for the program," she said. "But we are basically doing the best we can and hiring the most competent people for the job."

Matt Mathes, spokesman for the Pacific Southwest Region of the U.S. Forest Service, which oversees Los Padres, said the report is being reviewed.

"At the regional office we are confident that Los Padres National Forest will work through these controversies," he said. "Jeanine is a fine forest supervisor and she has a challenging job. These forests are often over 1 million acres and people care passionately about what happens there."

Meanwhile, Los Padres is also dealing with sexual harassment complaints lodged last month against members of an elite forest firefighting crew.

Top managers were accused of ignoring the allegations and retaliating against those who complained.

Tuesday's complaints were leveled by former staff members and volunteers, some of whom remain anonymous.

The report, titled "Ruined Relics," was written by Stephen Horn, a former Forest Service archeologist who resigned last year.

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