Monday, October 31, 2011

Great Basin Institute's most recent bait-and-switch

I got this e-mail a couple of days ago from a young woman who came to my home town from Switzerland to work for the Great Basin Institute on the Secret-Lamoille Trail project. It is a disturbing - very disturbing - indictment of the Great Basin Institute, the man they've hired to "oversee" the project, and of the local USFS office. This utter incompetence is why GBI and the USFS has blown through most of a half-million dollars RAISED BY THIS COMMUNITY on 3.5 miles of trail that is going to have to be substantially rebuilt. It's nothing more than a gross and ugly bait-and-switch, played on the people who put this project together AND on the well-meaning kids who sign up to work for GBI.

Good God, this pisses me off. It should piss you off, too.

I've changed the author's name, as well as the name of her partner, to protect their privacy.

I found your mail adress in because I read your articles about the Ruby Mountain Trails. I write you because me and my boyfriend= were part of the GBI workers working this summer to built the Secret Pass Trail and we had a very bad experience!! We really hope that GBI will stop its activities because it´s a very bad organisation.They lied to us about what we were suppose to do during our stay in USA and we paid a lot of money to come to USA from Switzerland!

GBI hires American (american corps workers) but also foreigners. Some foreigners are volunteers (they are not at all paid) others (like [my partner] and me) are interns (paid two times less than the american corps workers).

[My partner] and me came to do an internship in environmental conservation. Our goal was to gain some experience because we just finished our Master in geosciences. What we were suppose to do is described in the attached document. This document, the DS-7002, is part of the J-1 Visa process that explains what the foreigners participating to an internship in the USA are suppose to do in the USA. As you can see, this document contains a plan of what we were suppose to do while we were in Lamoille. This document contains a "contract agreement" part signed by us, the supervisor and the program sponsor. A lawyer explained me that this DS 7002 has the value of a contract.

GBI never admitted that this document has the value of a contract. The organization persisted to say that it is a list of readings and topics to be covered during the internship but if you read it you will see that it's clearly not!

We wrote to Nancy Taylor from the US Forest Department [ed. note - Ruby Mountain Ranger District recreation planner and overall project manager] to explain the situation but she never answered! We really don´t understand why the US Forest Department work with an organisation that doesn´t respect a contract from the US Department of State!!

About the work we did in Lamoille, I totally agree with what you say on your blog! The work done is unprofesional. A lot of the GBI workers hadn´t any motivation (like the interns because we didn´t know that we will do this job!). Some switchbacks were done 3 times instead of doing it well the first time! The result was that we had to cut a lot of trees because of the mistakes mad! The supervisors, team managers, etc. had no idea about environment. When we started the work, we didn´t received any informations about the trail. GBI just explained us how to use tools like a shovel!! I had to ask and ask again to have at least a map of the site and have some informations about the trail (like the historic of the trail, where the trail is going, informations about the environmental assesment, etc.)

We lost a lot of money, time and energy with this experience. We choosed to leave the internship because we were tired of this situation. Now we are still waiting for a full refund of the money that we spend to participate to this internship.

Maybe this story can help you to persuade people to stop the collaboration with GBI, an incompetent organisation that lies to hire its workers.



Here's what these kids were supposed to be learning, taken from the State Department paperwork granting them a visa to enter this country. Their internship was supposed to be broken into three phases:


Interns will see, first hand, how the theories of ecological and habitat restoration are being applied in the field. Participant will be able to apply their knowledge and skills gained while working in the environment in which they are studying.

Phase 1
Week 1: Introduction to Concepts of Ecological Restoration, discussion pertaining to the required research project.
Weeks 2-4: Concepts of Ecological Restoration, Principles of Habitat Restoration, check topic of research project for relevancy.

Phase 2
Week 1: Introduction to Restoration Project Planning.
Weeks 2-6: Restoration Project Design.
Weeks 7-11: Site Analysis and Preparation.
Weeks 12: Introduction to Native Plant Revegetation/Control of Invasive Plant Species.

Phase 3
Weeks 1-11: Monitoring, assessing, and evaluating restoration projects.

As far as I can tell, the only restoration work that needed to happen up there was fixing the butcher job that GBI itself is doing!

Where do I start with how terribly GBI wronged this young woman and her partner?

1. You do NOT abuse volunteers! People sign on to projects like this for an absolute pittance because they want to do great things for the environment, for the forest, for future trail users. Interns sign on for projects like this to further their education! GBI promised these kids a well-rounded season of work learning about environmental restoration, and instead handed them a shovel with NO oversight or guidance and set them to a job they had no desire to do.

2. These young people spent thousands of dollars of their own money to fly half-way around the world to further their education. Most young people don't have a money tree growing in their apartments. They were defrauded of the educational experience they thought they were paying for - wasting not only money, but also time that they could have used to get the experience needed to move into the workforce.

3. My guess is that these two kids were not alone in their experience, based on the absolutely abysmal quality of work I see up there. They had NO guidance, NO supervision, even though GBI's executive director is paying his Reno "buddy" out of the project's funds to provide precisely that. The blind were leading the blind, which can give no thinking person any kind of job satisfaction. The best part, though, is that once they were here it was almost impossible for them to leave! They were trucked out from Reno and bivouacked at the Lamoille USFS Guard Station, with no vehicle other than the ones driven by their crew leaders.

And, on a personal note - I love Lamoille, I love the Rubies, and I love this state. Northeastern Nevada is, to me, paradise, and I'm very, very proud of the beauty, history and hospitality of this place. To know that these young people traveled halfway around the world to get here, and then were so ABUSED... angers me beyond belief. I wish there were some way that I could show them that the rest of us here aren't charlatans, but I can't. They're gone, as are the rest of the kids GBI brought here last summer.


  1. I wish that I had known this was going on. The Swiss are the world's greatest conservationists and great people. The USFS should not allow the GBI to continue without first a hearing on this girl's claims. How can I help?

  2. Hard to say, "anonymous." Certainly I think that GBI's role in the project needs to be re-evaluated, not only because of how they treated these people but also because of their absolute incompetence in project management. This girl just confirmed things that have been blatantly obvious all along to anyone willing to look.

    I'm not sure you're going to get very far with the local USFS on this issue without significant community pressure spearheaded by the Northeastern Nevada Stewardship Group. NNSG seems to be taking a more active role in the project now that the USFS is having to raise money again. NNSG is in a position to do a bit of dictating here, if they wanted to, and frankly I think they should. GBI's involvement in this project has been an utter failure from the time they assumed control of it.

    If you know anybody at NNSG that's probably the best place to start - that or the state USFS recreation office. Or, if you know anybody on GBI's board of directors, that's probably a good place to go, too.

    I'm still in communication with this girl trying to figure out exactly what she was told up front about what she'd be doing for GBI. They obviously have restoration projects with the USFS and BLM that would have fit quite well with her internship, and the big question is why they didn't assign these kids to one of those projects rather than to a trailbuilding project that had no restoration component and nothing to do with why she came to the US in the first place.