The wisdom of the ground troops

  • Paul Larmer

 

The U.S. Forest Service has come a long way. No longer does the agency view the 190 million acres of national forests it oversees simply in terms of board-feet and dollars, as it did even as recently as 15 years ago. These days, most of its scientists and managers understand that forests are complex living systems that can be easily damaged. Instead of being the primary driver of all management activities, logging has evolved into just another tool — like fire and erosion control — to be employed in maintaining healthy forests.

This new, wiser Forest Service was on full display in the months following the humongous 2002 Biscuit Fire in southern Oregon, as veteran Northwest journalist Kathie Durbin points out in this issue’s cover story. The agency quickly put together a balanced plan that would have left much of the charred forest untouched to recover on its own, while testing the ability of careful chain-sawing in a few uncontroversial areas to speed the restoration of forests.

The plan didn’t please everyone, but most of the timber industry and many environmental organizations were willing to live with it. Unfortunately, the higher-ups in the Bush administration who oversee the Forest Service were not. They wrenched the plan’s focus toward massive logging in sensitive habitat, and turned what could have been the nation’s most progressive post-fire management efforts into a contentious mess.

Why did the administration ignore the wisdom of its on-the-ground agency personnel? We may never get a straight answer, but one disturbing possibility can be discerned from a comment made a couple of years ago by Mark Rey, the current Agriculture undersecretary in charge of the Forest Service. According to the Seattle Times, he told a ballroom full of Forest Service employees, with whom he’d battled for two decades as a timber lobbyist and Senate staffer: "Perhaps you have heard the old Sicilian phrase, ‘Revenge is a dish best served cold.’ Unfortunately, no matter how hard I try to avoid it, this is part of my personal genome. I humbly request that you try to avoid encouraging that shortcoming."

I’m not sure if the dedicated federal foresters trying to carve a middle path in Oregon did anything to encourage Rey’s predilection toward revenge. Or even if he is really hard-wired that way. Part of me wants to just chuckle at his comment, as perhaps the Forest Service employees did that evening.

Regardless of Rey’s motivation, one would hope that he and the others who oversee the Forest Service are also hard-wired with the capacity to learn from mistakes. The next time they are presented with an opportunity to meddle with a carefully thought-out plan, they should remember the Biscuit fiasco, and defer to those who know the ground.

 

High Country News Classifieds
  • CARPENTER WANTED
    CARPENTER WANTED. Come to Ketchikan and check out the Rainforest on the coast, HIke the shorelines, hug the big trees, watch deer in the muskeg...
  • AUDIENCE ENGAGEMENT EDITOR
    High Country News (HCN) seeks an audience editor to attract and acquire new audiences and deepen engagement with them - in our newsletters, on our...
  • COMMUNITY MARKETER
    High Country News (HCN) is looking for a Community Marketer to build and strengthen relationships between HCN and other organizations and individuals, with the aim...
  • FINANCE & OPERATIONS MANAGER
    Job Announcement: Finance and Operations Manager Announcement date: July 16, 2021 Applications will be reviewed on an ongoing basis and first review will begin: August...
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    Job Announcement: Development Director Announcement date: July 16, 2021 Applications will be reviewed on an ongoing basis and first review will begin: August 9, 2021...
  • HECHO POLICY AND ADVOCACY MANAGER
    Hispanics Enjoying Camping, Hunting, and the Outdoors (HECHO) was created in 2013 to help fulfill our duty to conserve and protect our public lands for...
  • HECHO NEW MEXICO SENIOR FIELD COORDINATOR
    Hispanics Enjoying Camping, Hunting, and the Outdoors (HECHO) was created in 2013 to help fulfill our duty to conserve and protect our public lands for...
  • IDAHO STATE DIRECTOR
    The Wilderness Society is seeking a full time Idaho State Director who will preferably be based in Boise, Idaho. This position is part of our...
  • CAUCASIAN OVCHARKA PUPPIES
    Strong loyal companions. Ready to protect your family and property. Proven against wolves and grizzlies. Imported bloodlines. Well socialized.
  • DEPUTY DIRECTOR
    The Nature Conservancy in Alaska is dedicated to saving the lands and waters on which all life depends. For more than 30 years, TNC has...
  • STAFF ATTORNEY, CLIMATE AND ENERGY PROGRAM
    STAFF ATTORNEY POSITION OPENING https://westernlaw.org/career-opportunity-climate-energy-staff-attorney/ ************************************************** Position Title: Climate and Energy Program Staff Attorney Reports to: Climate and Energy Program Director Location: Helena, Montana; other...
  • STAFF ATTORNEY, WILDLANDS AND WILDLIFE PROGRAM
    STAFF ATTORNEY POSITION OPENING https://westernlaw.org/career-opportunity-wildlands-staff-attorney/ ************************************************** Position Title: Wildlands and Wildlife Program Staff Attorney Reports to: Wildlands and Wildlife Program Director Location: Portland or Eugene,...
  • DISCOUNT SOLAR PANELS
    New w/25 year warranty. Shipped anywhere in the lower 48. Minimum order of 10 units. Call, text or email for current prices. .50-.80/ watt
  • SWEET MOUNTAIN HOME
    3.8 acres in pine and fir forest on a year round creek. Custom home, 2x6 framing, radiant heat, wrap around decks and established berry patch....
  • ENVIRONMENTAL GEOPHYSICS
    "More Data, Less Digging" Find groundwater and reduce excavation costs!
  • LEGAL DIRECTOR AND STAFF ATTORNEY
    Friends of the San Juans' Legal Director and Staff Attorney ("Legal Director") leads our legal advocacy and litigation practice and participates in many other organizational...
  • SPRING-FED PARCELS ON THE UPPER SAC RIVER
    Adjacent parcels above the Upper Sacramento river, near Dunsmuir. The smaller is just under 3 acres, with the larger at just under 15 acres. Multiple...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Wilderness Volunteers Wilderness Volunteers (WV), a 24-year leader in preserving our nation's wildlands, is seeking a motivated person with deep outdoor interests to guide our...
  • POEM+ NEWSLETTER
    Start each month with a poem in your inbox by signing up for Taylor S. Winchell's monthly Poem+ Newsletter. No frills. No news. No politics....
  • CANYONLANDS FIELD INSTITUTE
    Field seminars for adults in natural and human history of the Colorado Plateau with lodge, river trip and base camp options. Small groups, guest experts.