Is it time to rethink the Forest Service?

Aftermath of to action

 

Since the Clinton years, the Forest Service has undergone a great deal of change.  The agency was producing over 12 billion board feet of timber in the late 80’s, and by the mid 90’s that volume dropped to 2 billion.  To provide context, if that were converted to lumber, it would be a difference of approximately 18 billion feet of lumber.  The total consumption of lumber in the United States in 2015 was 44.1 billion board feet.  That’s nearly 41% all the lumber used to build homes, apartments, and other stick-framed structures.  That’s astounding!

Since the change occurred, the Forest Service has been struggling to create an identity.  That identity is unclear, but many of the current Forest Service employees want to do more for the land.  What does that mean?  Many of the leaders and line officers are doing their best to work with collaborative groups to develop management plans that work for everyone.  I applaud the efforts.  Praise notwithstanding, I wonder if those efforts will be enough?

Maybe it’s time for a complete overhaul of the system?  Now, before you start to think that I’m advocating for the privatization or selling of Forest Service lands, I am not.  At least not yet.  I believe there are some ways to make some serious changes that can get us the products we need while allowing public input.  It is my belief that the public participation is necessary so we can build a long-term social license to manage our forests for the benefit of all interests.

So, what does this mean?  I’m not entirely sure, but here are some concerns that I have that need addressed:

  • Personnel: This is out of hand. Employees are always moving.  This isn’t a reasonable system for managing forests.  There are plenty of real organizational plans developed by business and other government agencies that work better.  We need competent, qualified leadership that stays in place and builds a team. Average tenure within a forest should be 10 years or more, not 2 to 5 years.  This is especially critical when you consider the time horizon under which forests need to be managed. Longer term continuity needs to be created with the community and collaborative groups.  Our collaborative group, the Northeast Washington Forestry Coalition is in its 15th year, no members of the forest service leadership were on the Colville National Forest when we started.  Many positions have changed 3 times or more.
  • The scope of work: Why does the Forest Service need to do all the work that they are currently doing?  In British Columbia, Canada the Ministry of Forests doesn’t do all of this extensive environmental evaluation.  They task it to the forest license holder that must be reviewed and approved.  Isn’t this how we typically do inspections?  The Forest Service could quickly shift into an oversight role rather than partial implementation. The US Forest Service has approximately 34,000 employees to carry out management activities on 194 million acres.  The Ministry of Forests, Range, and Natural Resource Operations in British Columbia manages 232 million acres with 3,600 employees.
  • Accounting: This system of budgets for carrying out work with no regard to the value of materials produced is broken.  They do have a system for developing market pricing, but it’s not related directly to the cost of management activities.  Why can’t we figure out what actions and outcomes create sufficient revenue over costs and incentivize more of that to offset other costly efforts?  I understand that this is a federal agency, but we can all do the math.  It’s not complicated, and we should know how we’re managing our resources.
  • Regional Offices: Why do we have regional offices and why are they located where they are?  Should the Forest Service really have fully staffed offices in metropolitan markets?  Why can’t the rules for each region be set by reasonably sized Washington DC office and then handed down to each Forest Supervisor?  It appears that there are too many bureaucratic layers getting in the way of progress, not solving problems.
  • Recreation: Why can’t we figure out how to have world class recreation facilities on our National Forests?  It’s certainly possible to have excellent recreation sites, facilities, and trail systems.  It isn’t difficult to do, yet the forest service fails to maintain signs, maps, and information areas.  We need and deserve better.  We have more than enough resources to create revenue to cover the cost of creating and maintaining world-class recreation facilities.
  • Product supply: I have heard that we need to increase the “pace and scale” of restoration so many times it makes me roll my eyes. These words are empty.  Why don’t we have large projects in places where we have an infrastructure to buy the products?  I don’t mean a few thousand acres.  These should be 200,000-acre project areas that last 20 years or more. Larger if needed and agreed to.  They need to be strategically planned to reduce fuels in such a way to break up the continuity of dangerously dense forests.  We can restore forests while providing a significant increase in supply to the market.
  • Post-fire restoration: We need a plan to address the landscape when a fire comes, before the fire burns. This way there is no confusion on where or how we are going to manage after our forests burn.  Places that are protected (Wilderness, Monuments, Backcountry, etc.) regenerate naturally.  Areas slated for management get restoration treatment as soon as it’s safe and prudent for work to begin.  We can and should develop collaboratively approved plans ahead of time.
  • Land Allocation: Our lands should be managed actively where appropriate, restored with a conservation ethic where applicable, and protected where necessary.  Simple enough.  Why can’t we identify the acres where we have the most common ground and get to work.  The areas that have conflict can be identified and designated for a future solution.  Until that solution is determined the status quo is maintained.  The overwhelming driver of these efforts should be the local communities and the groups that work collaboratively within those national forests.

These aren’t all the issues, but some significant ones.  The way the Forest Service is conducting business is outdated and ineffective.  We need a re-organization.  Our nation needs to decide what we want our federal land managers to be doing and then rebuild the organization to fit desired outcomes.  If we continue down this path, the issue will continue to get worse.  None of us can afford that.

I will be working on a comprehensive plan based on my experiences and observations to develop the Forest Service of the future, and I will share it here when it’s complete.

81 thoughts on “Is it time to rethink the Forest Service?”

  1. Hi Russ, As a retired Forest Service employee I agree it’s time to make some major changes in how the agency conducts the business of forest management. I have written many articles for Evergreen as you probably know that address some recommendations the agency could make, some with the help of Congress and the Trump administration. More people should be located on Districts where the real work gets done and Regional and Forest Supervisors offices should be consolidated and put the savings out on the Districts. I suggest you and your readers read what I have recommended and if you agree talk to your Congressional Representative about implementing these recommendations.

    http://www.evergreenmagazine.com/tag/barry-wynsma/

    Glad Vaagens are still surviving, hope it becomes easier in the near future to supply your mills with the small diameter trees that are needed for both making boards and biomass and to help achieve the much needed restoration in our overstocked and dying Forests.

    http://www.evergreenmagazine.com/tag/barry-wynsma/

    Barry Wynsma, Bonners Ferry, Idaho

    1. Barry, good to hear from you. I’ll go back and read those Evergreen articles again. I’ll incorporate some of your points that I think further the cause. Thanks for all of your efforts!

      1. Hi Russ, if you wish to further discuss any of the recommendations I’ve made for improving management of our national forests I’m available either here on your blog or through email or ph. I appreciate what your mills are doing to help utilize small diameter trees.
        Barry

    2. Barry, I can’t believe these words came out of the mouth of a retire Forest Service employee. I mean that in the nicest way. I am a retired forester from the private sector and totally agree with your conclusion. I retired in 1997 after 25 years managing private timber that was generally adjoining federal timber. I managed an Alaskan native claim timber selection of 28,000 acres. Including myself as general manager/engineer and my assistant who handled cutting quality control and processing, we would harvest 30-50 million board feet a year. One year our operation (Atikon Forest Products) had the highest per employee revenue in the state. The USFS district office in Hoonah, AK had a staff of 14 and only harvested 10-15 million board feet per year. I could never figure out why they needed a landscape architect to make the clear cuts aesthetically pleasing. Keep up your work and hope that someone at the federal level who is not tied to the USFS bureaucracy will listen.

      1. Hi Donald, thanks for the kind words. For the past six years since I retired I’ve been trying to provide to the public, forest leadership and congressional leaders some possible solutions for allowing the Forest Service to become more efficient in caring for the national forests and serving the public, through my many articles graciously published by the Evergreen Foundation. They have all seemed to have fallen on deaf ears, so I’m questioning whether it’s worth any more of my time to continue speaking out for reforms in both how the agency is organized and in reforms to the multitudes of environmental laws and implementation policies and procedures that currently hobble federal land management. I was also hoping to hear other current and retired agency employees speaking their minds over these past six years, but I suspect current employees, whether they be in leadership positions or “ground pounders” like I was, fear retribution from the leadership if they speak out against the current “company line” narratives of collaboration is the silver bullet and environmental laws don’t need to have a major overhaul. Until that happens, expect the status quo of more large fires, less active forest management, less public service and less access to our national forests. Barry

        1. Barry,
          Why do you think your efforts fell on deaf ears?
          And what do you think it would take to really turn the tide?
          I know that may be tough to answer but you seem to have already spoken your truth so concerns of repercussions don’t seem to weaken your resolve.
          Therese

          1. Hi Therese, I think it fell on deaf ears because gov’t is a reactive body that only responds to intense pressure from the constituents, the “squeaky wheel gets the grease” concept. Currently the squeakiest wheel has been the environmental protectionist industry, so what it will take to change will likely be another natural disaster along the lines of the Big Blowup of 1910, only many more people will lose their lives this time around seeing more people live in fire prone areas. And I don’t worry about retribution because I’m retired, as much as the Forest Service loves to tout diversity in their workforce they frown on diversity of thought when it goes against the company narrative. Barry

  2. These are such good points. Coming from a family that’s father left the timber sales administration side of the Colville National Forest because of the lack of common sense within the agency. I can feel this issue first hand. The NFS used to be a self sustaining entity with the federal government. The excess money from the timber was also used to help support our small infrastuctures inside these logging communities. Having moved back after 17 years to hopefully raise my family the way i was, it has become obvious to me that there are major changes needed within the NFS. Thank you for writing these articles. It really hits home for me, and I look foreward to the days when my sons can hunt White Tail Deer, ride 4 wheelers, hike trails, and fish trout the same way that I did with my father.

    1. Jason, thanks for your comments and reading my blog. I’m glad it relates to you. I’m hopeful that these efforts lead to a better future for all of us and the generations that come after us.

  3. Well said Russ and totally agree as well. Look foward to your future posts on this subject.
    For my 2 cents, change can happen fairly quickly as happened in the Cinton administration with the help of lawsuits and public pressure.
    What would happen if all Counties with FS lands sued the Government for lack of duties as is happening in Oregon with State lands? Would it effect a change to FS funding from Congress? Would it start a national discussion rather than regional one?
    And what about accountability? If the leaders we elect (Federal, State, County) fail (yes, its a strong word) to implement change, then will the citizens hold electeds accountable for fires burning through communities, criminals out on the streets, lack of school funding, etc, etc?

  4. You should talk to Rick Cables about needed changes. His time as a Vice President at Vail Resorts has opened a lot of creativity in thinking about how the FS can step up.

  5. It is way past time to either do away with the Forest Service or restore it to what it once was. I remember back in the 70s, I knew all of the rangers in all of the districts. They were part of the community and you could talk to them at any time. The forests was managed in a sensible efficient manner and I can remember some fires, but not ones of the size you see today. When one started it was quickly addressed and controlled to not let it get out of hand. Now days I have seen them let burn for a month or more and then when they blow up they have to spend millions on it when it could have been put out with just a couple of people. I see more and more roads being closed off every year so that we have less access. The radicals want the entire forest treated as wilderness and want a hands off policy in place.. This is insanity. Please stop the insanity!

    1. Gerald, thanks for your comments. Yes, we’ve certainly come a long way, the wrong way for a few decades. Rather than going back, we need a new way forward. Many of yesteryear’s radicals are actually joining the fight for change. Many of them have been engaged in collaboration to make necessary changes and yet the FS is unable to respond even with great support. It’s an organizational problem that we look to influence.
      Thanks again for reading and engaging.

    2. Gerald, you expressed my thoughts also. Get some of the USFS desk jokes back up in fire lookouts. Put these fires out immediately. Quit whining about how much is spent on fighting fires when you don’t start fighting them when they are first spotted. Get rid of the gates. Let the people back in their forest.

  6. The Multi-Used programs seemed to have worked very well for a great many people for a long time. When this was phased out in favor of what ever USFS calls it today, the nation lost a tremendous resource, to appease a few clubs and individuals that were not dependent on the forest for their livelihood, recreation and sustained natural resources. Thank you for writing this article.

    1. Lowell, thanks for your comment and reading my blog.

      I don’t think the forest service if trying to appease specific groups any more. I think they have been trying to please everyone and in the process have pleased no one. There’s a lack of focus on what needs to be done and why they need to do it. It’s the classic case of everyone looking busy with very little, if any results. There are minor areas of improvement, but things need to change in a monumental way.

      All the best,
      Russ

  7. I would also like to see these rediculous cost share programs be revised in a cost efficient common sense approach. I own a forestry business in South alabama where I’m involved in collecting pine cones, herbicide, application as well as prescribed burning and planting. I also own and operate 4 logging crews. My company is diversified as any forestry business could be and that allows me to see “The Big Picture.” Certainly I agree there has to be a step one. Great blog. Enjoyed the read. Thanks

  8. The national forest should be treated like a garden which provides for multiple uses and gives sustainable products. The original development of the US Forest Service was designed as dedicated federal lands under the care and management of the local communities; not a federal bureaucracy.
    Massive wildfires in the West in recent years have been enhanced by the poor management of forest disease, lack of access due to closed roads, disallowing grazing on the forest which has allowed for a build up of the grasses to allow for a faster spread of wildfire, the lack of local loggers to provide first response to fire outbreaks, and the total failure of a management plan to create healthy forests. The USFS could take a lesson from tribal forest managers who treat their resource as a valued asset.
    With the shutdown of logging, local communities lost school monies, road closures, and thousands of jobs in mills and the related businesses who supported the milling process being lost forever. The Canadien loggers benefitted the most from our inadequacies.

    1. Del, thanks for the comments. Your comments come from someone who has lived through the same times that I have. We need positive change.

      Best,
      Russ

    2. I agree and coming from a logging community where all our mills and technologies have been sod out, and the public left holding their boot straps while watching the pitiful sickly diploid inferior forest non sustaining to wildlife, take the place of the glorious stands that once were… it sickens me… I was raised were second growth Timber was eight to ten foot through… my father had a small mill that worked off salvage of the incredible waste left behind of the original Saginaw rampage of trees that were toughted to have been big enough to dance on… I understand they will never be seen like that again… but it makes me sick to think certain companies have gained so much, while leaving behind tax paid for sickly forests, so so many here could speak of what’s left like it’s theirs to continue to wheel and deal in supposed management… our forfathers are rolling in their graves… and to have given tax breaks to farmers that filled their fields with trees… farmland that was cleared with horses and dynamite… and sheer guts and true American integrity… one thing I have learned in life is you can’t eat money or trees, but these lands we are all figuring to supposedly manage, are probably real sick of our help…

      1. Thank you for your thoughts Caprice. The only caveat I would add is that at this point if we don’t help the forest it will take centuries to recover. We have altered the level of fuels in the forest to the point that we will continue to see fires like this and even more severe in the future if we don’t have a good plan and execute it.

        My ideal would be to have a plan that at it’s heart strives to get the forests back into their historic range of variability and work to keep them there over time. Maybe we didn’t do it right in the past, but we can build businesses around doing the right things in the forest for the forests and the people.

        Thanks for taking the time to read and engage.

        Russ

  9. At core the USFS has changed over the past 60 years, as populations continue to grow and “developers” collude with politicians to violate our zoning rules and allow residential buildings to be created in fire zones, we find more and more of the USFS’s budget shifting to Fire, less and less shifting to Recreation.

    That’s a problem.

    We also see that “Resources” is plundering public lands and handing the timber to wealthy far right wing parasite companies that loot and plunder the land while us actual citizens get zero. The trees and the land they are on belong to us, but the USFS allows filthy wealthy parasites to come in and rape and plunder, and us citizens get nothing for it — a few token dollars for each tree while the wealthy right wing parasites reap tens of millions in personal “wages” every year.

    That’s a major problem.

    The USFS should be allowing timber bids for benefit for society, not for the benefit of wealthy bastards. Timber sales should be to companies that have caps on their wages resulting from supplying said lumber to mills — say caps of $100,000 annually with the Tax Office constantly monitoring each employee, a requirement for being permitted to cut OUR trees on OUR land, otherwise they’re fined and no longer qualify buy our trees.

    1. Problem 1: I agree that people need to develop private property with fire in mind. I’m certain in the west there are no official or actual “fire zones.”

      Problem 2: This is just flat out false. Calling small, family-owned businesses “far right wing parasites” is offensive and not fair or accurate. The USFS has market pricing mechanisms on all of their contract mechanisms to ensure that purchasers don’t get anything for free.

      Problem 3: Ridiculous. Many Americans, including small business owners, professionals, college professors, and a host of others would qualify as “wealthy bastards” under your definition, including myself. If you are referring to the IRS as the Tax Office, having them regulate the personal income, much of which is business income for contractors, is a complete waste of resources and government dollars. There are plenty of ways to create qualified bidder status, including the way it is done currently.

      Lastly, your method of thinking is unfortunate and strange. Even social progressive countries like France, Finland, Germany, and Sweden don’t institute such ideas for selling public timber. I’m not a scholar of socialism or communism, but it would seem your ideas fit well more in line with those social structures than the one in which we live in the United States.

      Thanks for reading. I would just say that we have a difference of opinion on this and many other topics.

    2. I do not get your rage seems as though u might just be a communist if u like that sorta system move to one don’t impose it on us we won’t stand for it.

      1. I’d just like to say although I don’t agree with all the points of view on here I believe it’s important that we hear them. We need to know where others are coming from so we can design our efforts appropriately. Understanding and having empathy for other’s interest is paramount for successful collaboration.

        Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that we need to pander to other positions and give up on what we think is right. From experience, I know that there is more common ground than it seems. Many people want to vent and spout off, especially online, but when we take the time to work with those that care enough to show up we often find that we can all get more of what we want without giving up what’s important to us. Remember to focus on what you want, not what you’re against.

  10. “I will be working on a comprehensive plan based on my experiences and observations to develop the Forest Service of the future, and I will share it here when it’s complete.”

    The US forest Service already has such plans, they are developed with participation by all individuals who are “stake holders” — which is *everyone* since these lands belong to us. These reports are compiled and made public and are separated by National Forest and other Regions, all of which can be downloaded from USFS web sites.

    People who do not like aspects of existing plans are invited continually to provide feedback and wants, needs, desires so that the plans may be altered, and the USFS has been fairly proactive in complying with localized needs and desires presented by local citizens.

    The best way to effect change is not to come up with your own plan but to get on line, download existing plans, download the endless PDF files which documents the expected changes and behavior as well as the expected scheduled reviews of existing plans, then to work with the USFS and your local fellow “stake holders” to alter the plans so that what gets placed in to effect for the next 5 years, 15 years, and 15 years are what you and your fellow land owners want.

    1. I have been working on forest service planning efforts and collaboration every month for more than 15 years. The way you describe it just isn’t the way it works.

      Collaboration is involvement. It isn’t “wait to hear what the government wants to do and then comment on it.”

      We had a year-long, intensive process to collaborate on the Forest Plan for our local National Forest. This included over 100 people, on Saturdays for months. People of all types were engaged. We identified areas of agreement and areas of conflict. Both of which should be very helpful to land managers when making decisions. When it was all said and done the Forest Planning Team came up with their own plan that didn’t even resemble that of the collaborative group.

      The Forest Service is incapable at this point of conducting functioning collaborative projects without haveing a highly functional collaborative group. I simply don’t believe the current process is adequate for getting projects out that meet social, ecological, or recreational concerns.

      Yet again, we have a difference of opinion.

  11. Hi Russ, I enjoyed reading your article and think you’ve made some excellent points. Undoubtedly, staffing could probably be scaled back and scope and approach be retuned, but I’m not sure the Canadian comparison is apples to apples. Truthfully, I don’t know anything about Canadian public forests or the personnel working on them, but I suspect they are not as actively engaged in the diversity of work that USFS and partners are in the US. Your perspective seems to come largely from the FM side of things on NFs. But remember, USFS is not only charged with conservation and management of national forests and rangelands, they are also tasked with conducting valuable research and supporting state and other partners on state and private lands. USFS is not just about NFs (1 of 3 arms), but also research (2nd arm – Research Stations) and State & Private Forestry (3rd arm – S&PF). I suspect staffing locations are a function of needing to address all of these areas (not just NF management), although I’m sure there could be some overhead savings if facility locations were reevaluated. In the South, there are far fewer acres of NFs and ownership is overwhelmingly private and state. S&PF in Region 8 goes a lot further/farther toward conservation and management of the collective forest resources than NF management. I’m in total agreement that changes can be made for the better, but proposed changes will need to take into account that some improvements may not be “one-size-fits-all” solutions when considering the diversity of ownerships and landscapes across the Nation. Just a few thoughts…

    1. David, thank you for reading and your insightful comments. I do understand the staffing issue and the multiple responsibilities of the USFS. I am not suggesting that we take the Forest Service to 3,400 employees and manage only for timber. And just to defend the Canadians, they do more than just manage timber, they just have it better prioritized. Do I believe timber should be prioritized higher than just being equal with all other responsibilities? Yes, but not at the expense of others like recreation, research, state & private forestry, grazing, special use permits, etc. The forest embodies the single largest resource the USFS has, and through proper management which directly includes harvest. The products create revenue, but also improve conditions in the forest that enhance recreation, hunting, water quality, habitat, and the like. The revenue should help the counties in which the forest resides as well as help fund all of the necessary functions of the Agency, even if it’s based on a budget and goes back to the treasury.

      My bottom line is this. The Agency is not in control of what it’s doing and needs to visit it’s essential desired outcomes by looking to the public and not looking within. It needs to be transformed to meet the needs of our country, not the needs of the agency. This is going to require some pretty significant changes, but can certainly be done over time if need be. We have an opportunity to have everything the forest can provide without slighting interests.

      Thanks again David and I hope that future content will address your concerns.

      Rus

      1. It is just not staffing that is the problem, it is what the staffing does and how their jobs are done. Gone are the days when a District Ranger was a field person that knew by personal experience the road, trails and waterways of his/her district as well as the bordering ranches and farms, local logging companies and the prospectors that were searching for their motherload somewhere in the forest. From what I see the Forest Service Professional personnel leave the patrolling to forest techs and LEOs while they and their biologists have meetings and write papers. JMHO

        1. This was one of my dad’s pet peeves. He knew the Okanogan National Forest like the back of his hand. He started working in high school breaking trails and stayed with the district until he retired. After he retired, they still sought his input. His biggest complaint, towards the end, seemed to be that there were too many supervisors (that had lots of ‘book-learnin’ but no real feel for the Forest itself) and not enough people in the actual forest.

  12. There’s no doubt that the Forest Service has lost their mission.
    America cannot sustain an agency that puts plants and animals over humans.

    I look forward to Trump starving the FS to death over the next 8 years.
    When I look at the travesties that have happened to our forests as the result of horrible management policies, it is very sad.

    1. Byron,
      Thanks for reading and commenting. There are changes that will be made and time will tell what changes those will be. The urban-rural divide is certainly an issue.

      Russ

  13. No mention of all the lawsuits and FOIA threats that have so stalled out and overwhelmed the FS (and BLM) to the detriment of good management. They are just trying to protect themselves from environmental lawsuits by acquiescing to them at the hint of any trouble. Additionally, there are so many now in the FS who have not come from farming/ranching/timber/mining backgrounds or families and truly do not understand or know those areas. They know what they were taught in school and what their emotional/fairytale view is. Even more so, there are many outright anti-resource use employees who consequently have say in management, at least in the areas I’ve lived in.

    1. Catherine,
      Thank you for your comments and reading the blog. I don’t diminish the lawsuits in purpose. They have had a serious affect. Our collaboration in NE Washington has resulted in very few legal challenges over the last 15 years. I think we’re getting close to having much fewer lawsuits, but there still are groups like the Alliance for the Wild Rockies that feel compelled to file lawsuits against projects that have broad based support from other conservation groups and communities. You’ll notice that their rate of success is plummeting. Many in the conservation groups are upset with this approach from a few fringe groups because they know changes are likely coming in the form of new legislation that will limit legal challenges.
      The FS employees have been cultivated by a culture of fear and risk aversion. Even when they have what amounts to political cover by collaborative groups, the engrained culture still shows. It’s getting much better and people that want to make changes are gravitating to National Forests that have a track record of performance.
      You’re right about the out of touch employees. Many come from Urban backgrounds and don’t understand how to effectively interact with rural communities and how the natural systems work. I welcome their exuberance and hope that they learn to adapt quickly and have empathy for what it’s like to live in rural parts of our great nation.

      I think there’s a big correlation between out of touch employees and the regional offices in urban areas. It does more harm than good.

  14. My Dad was a career USFS employee who retired in 1992 as the Land Management Planner on the Nicolet National Forest in northern Wisconsin. He passed away 6 years ago this Friday. I felt the need after reading your blog to thank you because it was like hearing his voice again.

    1. Mike, wow! What an honor to hear that from you. I’m sorry to hear about your dad’s passing, but I hope in some small way, knowing others are out there pushing in the same direction. Your comments remind me of the retired Forest Service scaler, Lee Hedrick from Colville. He taught me how to scale logs when I was just starting high school. The agency was so different then.

      I do this because there’s a difference between right and wrong, and what we’ve been doing is wrong. We can do it right and we owe it to the people that came before us to keep working to get it right.

      Thanks for reading and I’m humbled by your comment.

      Russ

  15. I agree with you! Let’s not forget that the timber revenue supported the local county governments for years until logging was shut down. These counties are failing now but if the logging revenues come back so will effective local Government.

    1. James, thank you for reaching out. I have not forgotten about that. In fact, that is why I have consistently said that we need to take a portion of the retained receipts from stewardship projects and provide those to the counties. If we can fill the infrastructure of the areas with mills, we can start to rebuild the milling infrastructure in other communities that will result in more dollars for everyone.

      Russ

  16. I have come to the conclusion that we probably privatize a lot of government agencies. When Trump first discussed privatizing the Columbia River system, I bristled. Once I ruminated on the issue for a period of time, I came to the conclusion that most government agencies are broken.

    1. Thanks for your thoughts Terry. I find that most agencies are broken as well. I have not arrived at that conclusion yet or privatization. I open minded to listen to all ideas. There’s a great deal more we can do with the tools we currently have in the current ownership. If we are unable to make those positive steps forward I believe the American public will start looking for new solutions.

      I don’t recall all the details but in New Zealand, the government essentially took their publicly owned land and created parks for the special areas and then sold the rest to private industry. It has been generally positive for them. In Canada, they have separated the parks and sensitive areas and set up the rest for management. My point is there are examples where this has happened throughout the world. It would be good to review those and see if there are lessons that can be applied here.
      Thanks,
      Russ

      1. Berkeley forester and professor Bill Libby set up New Zealand’s forestry approach. He is still alive and managed to meet with us in a local SAF meeting last week.

  17. Good points all around. But clearly right now there is an opportunity being afforded to make real change because of the fire situation plaguing Southern Oregon and Northern California. This is the end result of a sea change in the Forest Service on how they fight fires. And this illustrates graphically what you are saying above. The culmination of what you point out is right here in Medford, Oregon and slew of other cities as the failed policies create air too unhealthy for people to breathe. I have been in touch with a great many former USFS, BLM, and Park Service employees who were on the fire side of things. They say almost to the person that the change in policy forced their retirement. One of them referred to it as the rise of the “Ologist” culture in the Forest Service. Where fire decisions were made at the regional or even DC level by those with titles ending in “ologist” who had no fire backgrounds. And there are those who have said that the fire budgets have been turned into rip off machines where they just strip money away and route it straight into waste or even worse.

    1. Greg,

      Thanks for your comments. Agreed on most points, but I think something happened along the way. I too used to point the the “ologist” movement as a reason for the effective shut down of our forests. In the 90’s and early 00’s it seemed to be true.

      However, now I think the tides have turned. Those same “ologists” have now come to the realization that doing nothing or minimal management has had disastrous effects on our forests and ecosystems. I’ve talked to many that have now seen that large-scale management based on what the forest needs to healthy is the direction we need to go. It’s the only way to go.

      We keep looking at the acres of these fires, but there’s lots of forests that can still burn that don’t need to. There always will be. We need to move the needle towards forest health and healthy rural communities. I know we can do it, but it will take a changing of the rules/laws. The question is how much change?

      Russ

  18. The FS and BLM both need to be terminated asap – they are terrorist organizations that have gone rouge in their agenda. The federal government has no place managing land outside of DC. Beyond our national parks and monuments, all the remaining land is specifically for the public use – that means mining, logging, fishing, recreation, motorcycle and ATV use etc, and that would best be managed by the individual states. The FS and BLM shall terminate on Jan !st 2018.

    1. John, thanks for reading and commenting. I understand your rage. I too have gravitated towards similar views in times of frustration. I think there is a good middle ground. We just have the leadership to move that direction and quickly. Without it, over time it will move towards privatization. That’s why the conservation groups need to engage and promote good active management on the land in the WUI and areas suitable for management. Many have, but many more need to get on the train and fast.

      Russ

  19. I am sorry that I did not take the time to read all of the postings. The ones I did read did not say anything about how the environmentalists have strangled the logging. Almost every timber sale has a chance to be challenged in court to be stopped by the environmentalists. If they had to put up a very sizable bond when they file the lawsuits, that would hopefully slow them down. If you look at the Carlton Complex fire from 2015 in Washington State, the logging was stopped in court before the fire was even put out.
    Then you have the rip off Government Supply Agency (GSA) that dictates the buildings that the Forest Service has to lease instead of them building and owning on Forest Service land. There would be a BIG cost savings to the federal government with that.
    How much of the Forest Service budget has been taken to support federal programs that help the illegal immigrants with welfare, food stamps, and medical aid? Heck, what about the people on welfare because it is easier and more money than working a job? That federal money has to come from somewhere.
    Yes, I do agree that with logging, controlled burns, thinning of unwanted (bad types) of timber, and cattle grazing do really help the forests and wish there was more. No one mentions or researches how bad the environmentalists have choked that to what it is today. I do not wish to see the federal land in the west go to state control, it will wind up being sold off to private investors and then the west will be no better off than the mid-west and east coast for public land that is available for public use.

    1. Claude, thank you for reading and your response. I agree with some of your assertions, but it’s hard to read a comment that starts off with stating that you haven’t read everything (which no one expects you to), but then you finish with broad generalizations like “No one mentions.” I don’t mean to be condescending, but it’s a bit frustrating.

      There are plenty of places where we have talked about here and other places about environmental lawsuits. I don’t know anyone that hasn’t acknowledged FS lawsuits as a problem. With collaboration, we have seen a significant decrease in lawsuits in many parts of the country.

      As for bonding, I don’t think that is going to ultimately work. I think creating new dispute resolution that includes arbitration for collaborative projects is a great thing to test. This does two things. 1) Encourages interested parties to engage in the process and 2) Gets the forest service to work towards getting collaborative buy-in rather than preparing to defend a lawsuit.

      Your other comments on food stamps, illegal immigrants, and medicare/medicaid are for another blog.

      Thanks,
      Russ

  20. What about bringing back timber harvest? Our rural counties would love to have the income and jobs back. The forests and forest service were created for multiple use as in logging, grazing and small scale mining. Recreation in many forms are necessary too.

    1. Kevin,
      Thanks for your comment. All of those things are of critical importance for our collaborative work in Northeast Washington. We want to see more harvest, but we want to do it in consultation and in conjunction with recreation and grazing. Mining is something that we have engaged with at a broad level, but it seems to be very specific and case by case.

      With regard to recreation specifically, we see major opportunity to align active management and trail construction and improvement. Whether it be improving trails, connecting loops, converting old roads to trails, or just making sure the harvest doesn’t adversely impact the recreation, we can do much better than we’ve done in the past.

      Grazing is much the same way. We need to work with allotment holders to ensure that our active management enhances grazing and mixes recreation interests so we have less future conflict. We can create openings as well as leaving natural barriers or even building fence where it makes sense.

      The FS method pulls all these interests apart rather than managing them together. We need to work together so that we use the synergies of management to get more for all interests.

      It’s my belief that more good jobs will be coming back to rural forested communities. It’s going to take time, but we can build a new, sustainable future.

      Thanks,
      Russ

  21. Russ…Have you looked into the forest practices in South Dakota? My understanding is that the FS has developed working collaborations with their stakeholders, which includes environmentalists, for logging and healthy forests.

    1. Patti,

      I have been to South Dakota and spent some time with Nieman Enterprises both at the mills and in the woods. I think they have done a good job in many areas there, but there’s still significant opportunity for more good work as they continue to have forest health issues. It’s a far cry from what you see on the West side of Colorado and Wyoming. If you ever want to submit something for consideration in South Dakota I would be happy to take a look at it for publishing here.

      Thanks for reading and commenting,

      Russ

  22. I just returned home from a week long trip with my family, that included stops at Lassen Volcanic NP, Crater Lake NP, the Columbia River gorge area, Mt. St. Helens, and the Seattle area. As an American citizen, taxpayer, and an active user and lover of the”outdoors”, I was appalled by the amount of smoke that we encountered throughout southern and Central Oregon. If I read this blog (and the comments) correctly, there’s a direct correlation between the mismanagement of the forests and the severity of the fires. This is outrageous, and a black spot on our nation. If interested, I’ll be posting publicly some photos on Facebook.

    1. Thomas,
      Thanks for your comment. I would be happy to highlight your trip and photos here on the blog. I’ll follow up via email. I, along with many readers of this blog feel the same way you do. Thanks for sharing.

      Russ

  23. Good write up.
    I think the key is personnel. By limiting the upper layers of management, there is likely to be more accountability among Forest Supervisors since there would be limited “escape routes”. I also agree that there should be minimum tenures for managers, from district rangers up. They should have to see the results of their decisions and actions.
    My experience is that after a bad fire season or a mega fire, many faces will shuffle around and the mistakes or errors in judgement will go away with them. If personnel become part of the community and are themselves effected by their decisions, they often show better judgement.

    1. Greg,

      Great points. Personnel movement has been a major issue within the Forest Service and continues to be. The agency wants them accountable to itself rather than the public. This needs a major overhaul.

      Thanks for the comment,

      Russ

  24. Well said,
    Just have some caveats regarding the “collaboration ” concept being misused to infer that outcomes published citing collaborators means that those “collaborators ” actually had input into the process. Have seen lots of instances where collaboration is mandated and Fed personnel completely ignore the directive , put forth their agenda, REFUSE to include stakeholders weighted input to appease radical groups . …So we end up with the perpetuation of inaction, mismanagement and in too many cases catastrophic fire , yielding complete devastation. With NO personal accountability. Perhaps congress can address the concept of personal accountability for fed decision makers whose negligence or willful disregard for the forests and rangelands ( and ergo wildlife entrusted to their care ) yields damage to person or property with adjacent ownership or vested interest in said lands.

    1. Therese,

      Thanks for your comments. Collaboration has to done correctly and the FS needs to respect the process. There are groups like Sustainable Northwest and The National Forest Foundation that provide resources and assistance to collaborative groups. They know what is a good collaborative process and what is not. I would like to see group like that get contracts with the Federal Government to oversee the collaborative process and the Forest Service interaction.

      In time there will be clear understanding of what constitutes collaboration. Having a bonafide third party that can provide insight to the process without a vested interest is key to creating something that’s effective.

      We can’t have radical thinking or actions on either side ruin the genuine work of the community.

      Thanks for your comments,
      Russ

    2. Therese,
      You’re correct. The Forest Service has not done an adequate job listing to and implementing the input from collaborative groups. There have been many times where we thought we had consensus and things moving in the right direction only to see what the FS puts in writing looks nothing like the discussion.

      There’s no more clear evidence of this than when our community engaged in a collaborative forest planning process. The process was amazing. We had over 100 people engage in this process on Saturdays for almost a year (not every Saturday, but maybe 10 different meetings) to come up with as much agreement as possible. This should have been a great thing for the Forest Planning Team. When they finally came out with the draft, it didn’t resemble anything like our discussions. To make matters worse, leadership at almost every key spot had changed. It was infuriating.

      Fortunately we have the resolve to keep pushing despite the treatment of the Agency personnel. I think we as collaborative bodies need to impose our will onto the Forest Service. After all, we represent the best interests of the people and the forests.

      Thanks for your comments,

      Russ

  25. Russ,
    This is a great article! It has the ability to get everyone involved in thinking about how we can all take a role in how to change the status quo.
    I was born and raised in Colville and worked in the logging industry for many years as well as the forest service at the same time fighting fire and working in the recreation dept. In the late 80’s and early 90’s. I remember “the good ol days”. When I worked at the FS it did seem like it was about what the public wanted versus now it is more of a knee-jerk protect ourselves from the public reaction.
    It is frustrating when I take my family back to the Colville area to enjoy the Colville area such as the little Pend Oreille Trail systems on dirt bike and not have the same maintenance standards or the same upkeep that it once enjoyed.
    We now have a private organization from out of the Idaho area (Pantra) doing Trail maintenance and bridge rebuilding just to keep the Beaty bold trail system open!
    By the way, regarding your note on the local Ranger districts knowing their territory, the Newport ranger district informed me when I called for fire information that the little Pend Oreille trail system is not on Forest Service land! That is how out-of-touch our land managers are!
    This is not going to be an easy task to change the leadership and direction of the forest service but with enough pressure and outcry from the citizenship it can be done.

    Keep up the good work, definitely like seeing your leadership skills shine through!
    Matt Lambert

  26. I’ve seen a lot of people blaming the current fires on federal agencies, and no doubt that plays a role, but it’s also important not to overlook the role that climate change is playing here in the Northwest. Hotter, drier summers makes fire more likely. The warmer temperatures are also affecting beetle infestations. Can you manage for that? Maybe. But ignoring is not going to help, even with better forest management. Here’s a link that describes the recent research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science that shows that forest fire extent is double what it would be without human caused climate change:

    https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/10/161012141702.htm

    Of course this article is written by ‘ologists’ It’s too bad people don’t trust evidence based research and discount the importance ‘ologists’ these days. I wonder if it’s because the ‘ologists’ are finding out things that people don’t want to hear.

    1. The issue or severity of the impact of climate change can be seen by simply comparing fire suppression on State and Local protected lands vs. federally managed lands, for the same time period. If you do this you will note very little change correlating with climate change. You will also see an exponential increase in acres burned on federal protected land, compared to State protected lands. This tends to lead one to believe there was a much bigger change in something other than the climate.

    2. Betsy,
      Thank you for reading and providing your comments. I have to say that I don’t know what this preoccupation is with climate change being the driver on wildfires. I haven’t written anything on here that disputes climate change as being from carbon pollution or being human caused. I am not a “Climatologist,” but I am an expert on forests and forest health.

      I have heard this over and over again. It’s like we’re not allowed to say that managing our forests is a significant part of the solution for wildfires. The fact is that it’s been proven many times over that if you remove burnable fuel you get less intense fires. The fact remains that we were harvesting over 12 billion board feet of timber in 1988. By the early 1990’s we harvesting less than 2 billion board feet. We have just begun to increase to near 3 billion board feet. That means for 29 years, at an average of let’s say 8 billion board feet, we have left 232 billion board feet standing in the forest. At that same time, we have continued to put fires out. This has added to the fuels in the forest. Even if we had seen our climate cool for the last 30 years, we would still have massive wildfires just by the sheer volume of fuel.

      The managed forests that have been thinned on private, tribal, state and federal lands perform completely differently when faced with fires. This is supported by leading conservation groups. Beetle infestations are a result of excessive stands of mature lodgepole pine. It’s always been a part of these mountain forests and always will be. Parts of Canada replanted vasts tracks of lodgepole pine which exacerbated the problem. Warmer temperatures did not help.

      I could care less who’s fault it is. What we need to do now is fix the problem. If we had been working together with better results, we would see less intervention from Congress. I think the table is being set for some sweeping changes. If some of these groups that have been using the tactics of old (lawsuits, objections, etc) had recognized that their overzealous actions would have caused such serious changes, I wonder if they would have saved those tools for the times it was really needed?

      Betsy, with all due respect, when fires have 2 to 10 times more fuel to burn there is no way that fires are going to perform the way they used to. Where I grew up, there have been temperatures that have been in the 90’s and 100’s each summer of my 40 years. There has always been fire danger and fires.

      It seems to me that some people want others to admit that there is climate change caused by humans just to feel better about their perceived truth. If your theory is correct, then we’re all doomed, and there’s nothing we can do. I fail to believe that. We need proactive solutions to all of these things. I will do my best to cover some of these topics in upcoming blog posts.

      1. Thank you for publishing my comment and for your interest in this issue. As a scientist, I’m a strong believer in evidence based research; and examining the preponderance of evidence. Anecdotes are not enough – they are evidence, but smaller scale and more limited in scope; driven by an individual’s limited perspective. I strongly encourage you to look at the article about climate change and fire frequency published this year in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, based on large scale data. Climate change isn’t a “belief” or partisan issue for me. I’m convinced by looking at the evidence.

        It’s likely that BOTH climate change and fuel loads (which good management can reduce) are at play. The inland northwest just experienced the largest number of rain free days on record. We’ve had year after year of the hottest Summer’s on record or close, which dries the soil. But ignoring climate change because you think it’s just a partisan belief that the other team carries is not going to help with better forest management.

        1. Betsy,
          Thank you for your discourse. I don’t know if you’re speaking to me directly or just generally, but I believe that carbon emissions in excess have an effect on our global climate. I think science supports this, but I’m not closed minded to the notion that there could be more at play. There are more data points than we can even keep track of and they play off of one another. I’m a strong believer in the scientific process and respect people for taking the time and effort to calculate things over long periods of time.

          That being said, there are lots of people and I mean lots of people that are screaming at the top of their lungs about climate change that have very little clue about what they are talking about. Just like there are people who are loud opponents to man made cliamte change that have no basis for their claims.

          I work directly with the regions leading conservation groups to identify areas of the National Forests that are acceptable for management, then we develop agreed upon management practices that result from collaboration using both actual science and social science to create a balance.

          Once we come up with this we still have a difficult time getting the agencies to implement these desired actions on the ground. We need the support of scientists that doing this work in the right places is of great benefit regardless of your politics.

          Having scientists saying that this is all due to climate change and management plays a small role is a guess at best. From what I have seen and experienced it’s not even close to accurate. It would certainly appear as though these fires burning through unnaturally thick timber and brush are creating climate change through these massive carbon emissions. Why wouldn’t scientists see this as partially man made because of our fire suppression tactics over the last century and say that it’s time to manage these fuels back to the historic range of variability?

          In Europe they see forests and wood products as a major part of the climate solution. In the US it’s seen as evidence of climate change and these large fires are natural and there’s little that can be done. Seems crazy to me.

          When frustrated people that are living with the problem say that they want to see the forests managed they are called deniers. That’s not the case. Many people just want to do the right thing and it will provide a positive result for our forests and the climate.

          I have empathy for scientists that feel like people don’t believe in their work. I just wish scientists would feel empathy for land managers and people living with this issue in rural America. I’m tired of all the blame and I want to work on solutions, and healthy forests are a big part of the solution.

          Thanks,
          Russ

  27. We need more decisions made by experience at the ground level and less out of DC. More grazing by sheep would lower the fuel load. I used to have a band of sheep on the Gifford ponchos but the cost was more than renting private pasture. I’ve worked for the Oregon state forestry fire protection people. I have worked the woods from California to Alaska and the Forest service people got dumber every year as they had less concerned with what they were doing and more about getting up in the ranks.

    1. Thanks for reading Dale. It sure seems like the was the FS is set up as an agency is to be accountable to themselves and their hierarchy rather than to the land or the people. There are exceptions and they are becoming more confident to speak and act, but it’s been broken for a long time.

      Thanks,
      Russ

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