Snow and Avalanche Center Forest Service Loses Explosives

US Forest Service Explosives - Some are Unaccounted For, Security is Lax

Audit Warns of Forest Service's Guns
Sat Apr 26, 2:20 AM ET

By EMILY GERSEMA, Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON - Storage facilities at national forests and ski resorts are packed with guns, howitzers and dynamite, but the U.S. Forest Service does not adequately restrict access to some sites, an internal audit says, and is not even sure where others are.

The Agriculture Department inspector general said that after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, the Forest Service "did not sufficiently reevaluate its security program to address possible vulnerabilities and problems. These lapses have increased the vulnerability of munitions and explosives to theft and misuse," auditors said in a new report.

The report said the Forest Service did not know where some of the 319 storage sites containing weapons and explosives were located. It also said the agency was unaware of the types of weapons that the storage facilities held.

The Forest Service has 166 storage facilities where it keeps munitions, explosives and guns. It oversees 153 other sites operated by private ski resorts with federal permits authorizing them to use explosives and guns to blast snow to prevent avalanches. The sites contain weapons ranging from howitzers and rifles to dynamite.

Auditors have found security problems in the Forest Service before. Last fall, they warned that terrorists could steal air tanker planes for fighting wildfires and spray harmful chemicals unless the agency increased security.

The new report, released late Thursday, said auditors found large quantities of stockpiled munitions in some of the buildings. One had almost one thousand artillery shells — enough for a 24-year supply. Another contained outdated ammunition and deteriorating explosives.

Auditors recommended that the Forest Service improve its oversight of the ski resorts. The agency has not been requiring complete background checks, they said, increasing the "risk that unsuitable personnel could obtain or maintain access to munitions and explosives."

Also, the report said, the department failed to ensure that ski resort workers were certified to handle explosives. At one point in the investigation, auditors saw ski area workers at a resort preparing explosives for avalanche control in the basement of a public building. The inspector general's office said it could not disclose whether the resort or its workers were charged with any violations.

Besides increasing inspections, auditors said the Forest Service should:

  • Ensure that ski resort workers who handle explosives are properly certified and have cleared a criminal background check.
  • Post signs near storage buildings warning of explosives.
  • Restrict access to the storage buildings at ski resorts and on federal lands.
  • Update its records on the sites and evaluate what they contain at least twice yearly.
  • Clean out and shut down unnecessary sites and increase security at those that shelter excessive supplies of explosives.

Mary Matiella, chief financial officer for the Forest Service, said Friday the agency agreed with all of the findings. She responded to the report with a letter pledging to implement most of the inspector general's recommendations by September.

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