The federal Office of the Inspector General is opening an investigation into how the U.S. Forest Service granted millions of dollars to the State of Alaska to work on a Roadless Rule decision in the Tongass National Forest.
In November, two Democractic members of Congress requested the investigation after Alaska’s Energy Desk obtained documents showing the state used some of the money to pay a timber industry group for additional industry perspective.
Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan and Rep. Raúl Grijalva of Arizona questioned if the funds were misused. The money came from a modified federal grant typically used to prevent wildfires.
The state spent the money in a variety of ways, but it drew criticism from tribal governments and environmental groups for offering some of the funds to the Alaska Forest Association — at a time when a major decision is being made that could impact logging in the nation’s largest national forest.
Governor Mike Dunleavy has sharply denied any misuse of funds.
Corri Feige, Alaska Department of Resources Commissioner, reiterated that in a statement, which also says the state hasn’t received notification of the investigation yet, but will work cooperatively with the inspector, trusting that the inquiry is fair.
The Office of Inspector General will determine if the Forest Service had the proper authority to award the $2 million grant to the state and confirm whether other stakeholders knew about it or not.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated.