I said I would write more about reorganizing the Forest Service. Before we take a deeper dive, let’s look at our current land management structure. The Department of Agriculture oversees the US Forest Service. The Forest Service manages 193 million acres of land, much of which is forests. The Department of Interior oversees the Bureau of Land Management and the National Park Service. The BLM manages a total of 247 million acres, 58 million of which is managed under Forests and Woodlands. The National Park Service (NPS) manages our National Parks, National Monuments, Historical Sites, and National Recreation Areas.
Why are we managing lands under two separate departments? It doesn’t make sense to me. I could see it if the two departments were managing lands for completely different purposes. For example, one could manage Wilderness, National Parks, and Monuments while the other managed the remaining land for forest products, recreation, and other natural values. These would be separate strategies that would require different competencies.
In reality, we have two federal departments and two bureaucratic land management agencies essentially doing the same thing in slightly different ways. In many cases, within proximity to one another. There are protected landscapes in both the Forest Service and BLM, while the National Parks Service primary focus is managing special places and recreation areas.
Before we rebuild one agency like the USFS, we should look at all federal land management. We need to look at all the forest lands owned by the people of this country and design a better way of doing business. We need to identify the areas that are Parks, Wilderness, Monuments, and other protected areas and put those into one silo to be managed accordingly. The remaining lands need to be identified as needing management with a conservation focus or an active management focus. These conservation and actively managed lands could be under one umbrella.
What does this mean in practical terms? We take all 440 million acres of federally owned lands (247 million acres of BLM-Department of Interior and 193 million acres of USFS-Department of Agriculture) and design a management system that best fits those lands. Having two departments with two sets of overhead, regional, and local offices doesn’t make good fiscal sense if they are essentially doing the same thing.
We could easily take all the protected lands and put those under the management of the NPS. The active management areas and conservation areas can be managed by merging the BLM and the USFS and create a Federal Land Management Agency. This new agency needs to set up to effectively OVERSEE the management of our federal lands under the direction of the Department of Interior. This means that we need to design a process of oversight, not implementation.
The USFS could continue to support forest research. Research stations are creating a great deal of good work. I would, however, suggest that we make sure that a connection between land management, recreation, and the forest industry when selecting work. Creating documents for the sake of research without seeking to influence an outcome should be avoided. I have read many reports with countless hours of research behind them. Unfortunately, many are presented in a unit of measure that cannot be used or understood by industry professionals.
There are 35,000* people working within the USFS, 21,651* people working within the NPS, and people 11,621 (additional 30,860 volunteers) * working within the BLM. All three agencies have a combined budget of nearly $10 billion. It certainly shouldn’t take 100,000 people and $10 Billion to manage our federal lands. We need to do better.
The United States looks especially inept when you look at a place like British Columbia in Canada. They manage over 230 million acres with a total of 3,800 people. For a better indication of how British Columbia manages their resources here is the Service Plan from the Ministry of Forests, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations.
The purpose here isn’t to embarrass these agencies and their employees. The goal should be to create a land management strategy and vision that works for the American People. We need to design an agency that can carry out the tasks to meet those high-level objectives.
An interesting note, this isn’t the first time this has happened in the United States. President Herbert Hoover signed the Reorganization Act of 1933 that was put into place by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. We need a new Reorganization Act of 2017 to correct the mess that we have today.
One recurring concern that we’ve heard from Forest Service leadership for years is that they do not have enough people or money to carry out the much-needed work on the ground. The facts tell a different story.
More to come……….
*All employment data pulled from Wikipedia