WHEN Jeff DeBonis began working for the US Forest Service, he was surprised to see some of the same problems he had encountered as a Peace Corps volunteer in El Salvador specializing in reforestation and soil conservation. Namely, erosion caused by overcutting. As a timber sales planner in the Kootenai, Nez Perce, and Willamette National Forests over the next 10 years, he concluded that simply working within the system would not change the ``get out the cut'' attitude he found prevalent in the Forest Service.
So last July, along with one other agency employee, Mr. DeBonis started the Association of Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics. To date, the organization has gathered 3,000 members from around the country, and its quarterly newsletter now circulates to more than 100,000 people - mostly natural resource professionals.
Many who sign on prefer to anonymity. Others are not afraid to speak publicly in the organization's publication ``Inner Voice.'' ``We need to make the national forests look more like showcases rather than places we hope no one sees,'' wrote David R.W. Hoefer, an agency forester for more than 30 years.
Timber companies tried to get DeBonis reprimanded for being so outspoken. But he was pleased to find the Forest Service handled the matter in a ``fair and evenhanded'' manner as a free-speech issue. ``We worked together on researching this issue, with the objective of fostering more open communication from employees,'' he says.
DeBonis has just resigned from the Forest Service to devote full time to the association, but there is evidence he is already having an impact. In a letter taking issue with many points of criticism, Forest Service Chief F.Dale Robertson also commended DeBonis for bringing up ``several good ideas that the Forest Service must move forward on, such as more ecologically sensitive forestry.''