Can the Forest Service change?

  Dear HCN,

It seems nearly every issue of High Country News has some article dealing with the decline and fall of the U.S. Forest Service. This strikes near and dear to my heart since I spent over 27 years with the agency.

The agency is not the same one I started working for in 1970. Until only a few short years ago, the Forest Service was considered a model government bureaucracy - and no, that is not an oxymoron. We wore the white hats and we had a noble mission. We cared and we were respected. Starting with the Reagan revolution, something significant changed. At least that's when I noticed it. The people of the West, still to my amazement and bewilderment, shifted to an extreme in electing people who belong more to the Robber Baron era of a century ago. Budgets were slashed, employees ridiculed, and our objectives challenged.

I think we have so discouraged, so demoralized people, that (just as in politics), too many of the people who should be leaders just quit in disgust. When the political leaders such as the Chenoweths, the Craigs, the Hansens, etc., ask the agency to do things counter to the Forest Service mission and laws, no one is able to stand up to them. The Jack Ward Thomases, the Tom Kovalickys, Paul Rieses, try but too often fall prey to those who don't have courage or convictions to say "NO, that is counter to our mission and the law."

Far too often in my career, I watched as the "get the cut" mentality overruled the wildlife, the recreation, the other parts of our mission. I cared for the land and I know many "ologists' who similarly tried to do their best. The Forest Service during my career was an agent of compromise and most of us could deal with this. But when one day you wake up and have absolutely no allies, things get tough.

Now, the extractive industries, the environmental community, the politicians - all have only vituperative, venomous tirades against not only the agency, but also the people trying their best on the ground. This wears on you after a while. I got tired of being considered the evil one only trying to put ranchers, loggers, just about anyone who used the land, out of business.

When I retired last summer, I felt that the Forest Service as it existed for me for nearly three decades was doomed to fall. But I'm enough of a biologist to understand the concept of evolution. Things must change and they are changing. What I hate is to the good people berated just because their leaders aren't able to adapt.

Joe Colwell

Hotchkiss, Colorado

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