Another hatchet job

  Dear HCN,


Your title "Fallen Forester" in the December 21 issue is unfortunate. It leads one to conclude that Jim Nelson is in some way tainted goods. To the contrary, he is a model of the passion, intellect and gumption the Forest Service needs to cultivate to accomplish its difficult mission.


More fitting titles would have been "No Good Deed Goes Unpunished" or "Another Hatchet Job in the USFS." A question mark after Fallen Forester would have set the stage better.


History is full of predatory behavior within bureaucracies. The superannuated dilettantes and professional automatons of most large organizations serve as the champions of mediocrity. What Nelson and others in the Forest Service have learned is that change-agents pay a personal price for the fire in their bellies.


The outfit is adept at self-destructive behavior. In the mid "70s, Ted Schlapfer, then regional forester for the Pacific Northwest Region, was openly discussing the need to modify timber-management practices. He favored the concepts articulated by Aldo Leopold and others that considered systemic implications of our actions.


His ideas resonated and started to catch on. To quiet him down, he was instructed to move to Washington, D.C. He chose retirement instead. A quintessential "Timber Beast" replaced Ted and the message was clear. "Let's not trouble ourselves with new-age thinking while we get out the cut." A different response in the "70s may have helped us avoid the spotted owl issue.


Few human systems reward visionaries and leaders that are ahead of their time. While corporate rhetoric urges folks to strive for a vibrant tomorrow, a gelatinous mass within does its very best to stifle extraordinary efforts to do so.


Yes Jim Nelson made a mistake. It was believing in what he was doing enough to expedite it in every LEGAL way possible. He's always been a barrier buster and his past behavior has alienated some folks. It was only a matter of time before someone, with more allegiance to process than product, got their feelings hurt and mobilized the whistleblowing act to whip him into submission.


If in fact there were only "some procedural mistakes that are really pretty technical" and "a lot of this is internal, bureaucratic, procedural rigmarole," then Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics and the Forest Service owe Jim Nelson a very public apology.





Jim Webb


Monte Vista, Colorado





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