The worker ants keep the agency alive

  • JUMPING SHIP: Joyce Whitney

    Marco Restani photo

Note: This article is a sidebar to one of this issue's feature stories.

Joyce Whitney is typical of many young people who enter the Forest Service with a gleam in their eyes, believing they can make a contribution to the stewardship of America's public lands. She works on the Bozeman Ranger District of the Gallatin National Forest, which wraps around the northern boundary of Yellowstone National Park in Montana.

But now, demoralized by the lack of clear agency mission and by a chaotic work environment, she is jumping ship for a post with the Bureau of Land Management. That's a sign of the times. In even the recent past, a Forest Service employee would have seen a job with the BLM as a step down.

As a part of the president's plan to downsize government, the agency has targeted "the worker ants, the field personnel who are the lifeblood of this agency," she says. "We were shorthanded before the staffing cuts. But now conditions in the office are like a very intense pressure cooker.

"We simply don't have the time to be doing the job we should, and when we don't, we run into appeals and litigation from environmentalists, which create an even greater workload," she says. "We keep wondering if help is ever going to arrive."

Not long ago, the Gallatin National Forest commissioned an internal survey, and the results echo the sentiments of employees throughout the national forest system:

* Sixty-five percent of those questioned said they strongly disagree with the assertion that high-performing employees are promoted;

* Eighty-seven percent said they strongly disagree with the assertion that pay raises depend on how well employees perform their jobs;

* Seventy-four percent strongly disagreed with the statement that red tape and unnecessary rules and regulations do not interfere with the completion of work in a timely manner;

* Seventy-one percent said they strongly disagree with the notion that an effort is made to minimize the levels of bureaucratic management.

Whitney's boss, Gallatin Forest Supervisor Dave Garber, takes the survey findings to heart. A veteran of the agency's massive clear-cutting campaigns along the Cascades and coastal subranges of Oregon, he says he's a Dombeck convert.

"Fundamentally, we need a national policy on timber coming off of federal lands," Garber says. "For instance, one acre of harvest out of the Northwest rainforests can equate to 50 acres or more in the Northern Rockies. We need to ask ourselves what is the most efficient and ecological way to have a logging program, and where should it take place?

"What we face now is not a new dilemma but a higher level of severity, because the land base has been used for over 20 years. If we want trees, they are in places which are harder to get."

High Country News Classifieds