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Know the West

Smithsonian serves up Forest Service Lite

  On a recent visit to this year’s U.S. Forest Service display at the Smithsonian’s annual Folklife Festival on the Mall in Washington, D.C., I saw some disturbing gaps in its representation of the Forest Service "culture" — the timber program was nowhere to be found. I asked a few uniformed Forest Service folks at tables where the timber program was. I was met with replies of "Really? It’s not here? That’s interesting ... How ’bout over there?"

Granted, I went in with a chip on my shoulder. I worked for the Forest Service in Northern California as a seasonal archaeologist on the Trinity National Forest, as the spotted owl controversy heated up. I saw firsthand the accelerated and unsustainable logging of ancient forest in the late 1980s. And I went to the display knowing that most people in this country have no idea that commercial logging (don’t call it "harvest") takes place on national forests — at taxpayer expense, no less.

Seems like the Smithsonian served up a summer picnic tableau of Forest Service "Lite." I scoured the displays looking for any reference to the timber program. One small photo of a clear-cut landscape from the ’60s on a panel of the USFS’s history says clear-cuts fell out of favor because of some objections to the aesthetics. Similarly, a passing reference at a wildlife table to the endangered spotted owl says nothing of the controversy, the "jobs vs. the environment" polarizing fostered by the USFS and past and current administrations.

The greenwashing job done by the USFS to celebrate its centennial was reprehensible, because it didn’t tell half the story.

Jay Lee
Takoma Park, Maryland