Thursday, December 30, 2010

National Park Service

Backroads Information- National Park Service

Everybody has a rich uncle with money, nice digs, and just an air of superiority around him.  Among the Federal land management agencies that rich uncle is the National Park Service.

The National Park Service (NPS) was founded in 1916.  It had only a few National Parks at that time, but over the years has grown to 394 units of which 58 are designated National Parks.  The NPS has National Monuments, Historical and Battlefield sites, National Recreation Areas, as well as other designations like National Seashores and Parkways.  National Park Service Web Site

The NPS has over 84 million acres under its jurisdiction.  There are 22 thousand Park Service employees who spend almost 3 billion dollars a year managing the system.  Compared to the BLM or FS, the Park Service has much less land to manage but more visitors with visitation being over 270 million visits a year.   This compares with 173 million for the Forest Service.

The NPS is part of the National Recreation Fee program and they pocket admission and other revenues to the tune of 346 million dollars a year.

The NPS is run by a Director that is appointed by the President and confirmed by Congress.  There are seven regions each with a Regional Director who supervises all the Park Superintendents and other line managers in the NPS.  There are also Service Centers scattered throughout the country doing much of the design and planning work for the agency.

The Park Service is a VERY politically savy organization.  Probably the best among the Federal land management agencies.  They do not make very many mistakes or get into hot water politically.  They have an ardent group of supportors that funnel corporate and individual donations into the park system.  Seems like those rich uncles get all the breaks.

I did work for the Park Service in a planning position in the late 1970's.  I picked up film to document my study and got a stern lecture on mis-use of government film.  So I asked, "well how can you tell if I am mis-using the government film? "  The answer was if we see "pictures of people we assume it is an inappropriate use of film."  Since my study was a recreational carrying capacity determination for a large recreation area if I had pictures of flowers and mountains THAT was a misuse of film.

I came to see the Park Service is more focused on the Park than the visitors.  This is the reason for all the regulations.

The National Parks are expensive to visit.  Save your pennies.  There are admission fees, trail fees, camping fees, and even mountaineering fees.   The only way to minimize the fees is to get a Golden Eagle or an Inter-Agency Pass.  This gets you free admission to the Parks and a discount on camping fees outside their RV campgrounds.

The National Parks are famous for their rules and regulations.  In many ways the Park Service is the agency of NO.   The best mindset for visiting the National Parks is to think of them not as wildlands, but as a museum.   A very pretty and large natural history museum in most cases.  Walk carefully between the lines, speak softly, and do not use flash and you will be all right.

The National Park Service manages museum's known as historical sites, natural areas known as National Parks, and places called National Recreation Area's.  These are the best bets for boondocking and a more "normal" experience than you can find at the Parks.  Some, like Lake Meade even allow boondocking.  Lake Mead National Recreation Area.

Bugaboo hates the National Parks.

He growls whenever we approach an entrance station.  There are no dogs allowed on trails.  And he must always be on a six foot lease.

Dispersed camping or boondocking is banned except for a few units in the Park system.  Most campgrounds are far too small for RV's, so if you have even a moderate length RV you will probably be staying outside the area.

Here is one of the few campgrounds that can accomodate larger RV's.  Katherines Landing at Lake Mohave within the Lake Mead National Recreation Area.

Now that we are finally eligible for our Golden card we stop at all the National Park areas.  They are well worth the visit if you can afford them.  The good news is that most of them are surrounded by BLM or Forest Service lands and you can camp there and drive into the Parks on a daily basis.

One tip.  Check the admission stub when you visit the Park.  Many times they are good for seven days and sometimes for even more than one unit in the area.  You can save some money by reading the admission stub.

If you are new to the outdoors the Parks are wonderful places for you.  The rules and regulations will keep you from getting in trouble.  The Park Service is always there to make SURE you do the right thing.  Go to the interpretive walks and presentations and you will learn a lot about natural history.  At some point you will outgrow the hand holding, and be ready to explore the Forest Service and BLM lands.

Somebody once said that the National Park's were America's best idea.  Well, I would tend to put the Constitution and the Bill of Rights ahead of the Parks.  I would even put the Forest Service and BLM lands ahead of the Parks as an idea.  Ok, so we will make them America's best fourth IDEA.

Visit YOUR National Parks.  It might be only America's best fourth IDEA, but they are much more than just a pile of rocks!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Forest Service

Backroads Information-Forest Service

The Forest Service was created in 1905.  It was in the forefront of the conservation movement in the early 1900's.   The timber, mining, and grazing interests fought the Forest Service tooth, so much so, that the agency's survival was in doubt during the early years.  The Forest Service was the first agency to use SERVICE in its name.  The emphasis on public service helped to insure the survival of the agency.  Of course, the word does not mean as much after the IRS hijacked the word!

The Forest Service is responsible for managing 193 million acres of public land.  Its budget is 5.5 billion dollars with almost 35,000 employees.   The agency can no longer brag that it returns more money to the Federal Treasury than is appropriated by Congress.   Their current returns to the Federal Treasury is in the neighborhood of 130 million dollars and the Forest Service retains 320 million for its operations.  Currently, over 40% of the Forest Service budget goes to firefighting.

The Forest Service has a national office in Washington, D.C. and regional offices that span several state boundaires.  The local management is through National Forest Supervisor"s Offices in larger towns and at the grass roots level, the Ranger Districts in the smaller towns within the forest's boundaries.

The Forest Service takes pride in being a professional agency lead by a career employee.  Except these days the incoming administration appoints the Chief soon after taking office.  So far they have been career employees but those days appear to be numbered.  As in the BLM resource professionals make up the bulk of employees.  The Forest Service also has a research arm that employs 500 scientists that until recently has been a showcase scientific organization.

The slogan for the Forest Service is "Caring for the land and serving people".  However, it is better known for the statement by its first Chief that the mission of the Forest Service was to provide for the"greatest good of the greatest number in the long run.".  Now all my forest economics professors always said that this was an impossible to measure.  However, one of those professors came up with the term "net public benefit" to describe the same concept in the early 1980's.  So it seems that poetry has gone out of our public lives.  I miss Gifford Pinchot and his vision of the Forest Service.  For more on the term see this link:  Greatest Good.

The Forest Service is also well know for the concept of multiple-use.  Though very popular in the 1960's the concept has gone out of favor as special interest groups have carved out special designations and areas in the late 20th century.  It is a sign that public land is now valuable enough to fight over!

For years the Forest Service used the revenues from timber harvest to provide recreation facilities and more importantly cover the costs of overhead for offices, radios and computers.  With the collapse of the timber program the Forest Service ended up with recreation facilities that it could no longer afford!  The Forest Service has 375,000 miles of road, 143,346 miles of recreation trails, and more than 14,000 recreation sites.

In response, the Service tried Recreation Fees, concessionaire management of campgrounds and private/public partnerships to maintain the facilities.  That created its own backlash and controversy.  Forest Service campgrounds are more expensive and in poorer condition than those managed by other Federal agencies.  It has attempted to close facilities but this has met resistance both internally and externally.

The Forest Service was the first federal agency to recognize boondocking as a valid recreation opportunity.  In fact, in the early 1980's it became the centerpiece of their recreation program.  However, dispersed camping as the Forest Service prefers to call it appears to be rapidly coming to a close.  Here is our blog entry on this topic:  Boondocking of Forest Service land.

The Forest Service is entering a period of rapid change as all those employees hired during the boom decades of 1960 and 1970 retire.  The rapid turnover is bringing a new employee to the agency and its will be interesting to see what changes this will bring to public use of these lands.

Currently the agency is like a bull elk brought down by the wolves.  The timber, mining, and grazing interests have begun to fade, but new special interests like oil and gas companies, ski areas, cellular companies, communications, concessionaires, and a host of others have influenced Congress to provide "more direction" to the Forest Service.  I guess the Forest Service managed lands are just too valuable these days to be managed for the "greatest good of the greatest number in the long run".

In 2005, for its Centennial the Forest Service prepared a film on the Greatest Good.   It is a honest look at 100 years of the Forest Service.  It has played on PBS stations, but to see it now you have to buy it from the Forest Service or Amazon.  The Greatest Good: A Forest Service Centennial Film

We have a copy at our vacation rental home and it consistently gets more play than those Hollywood productions.  Where else can you hear Eddy Arnold singing Smokey THE Bear?  You even get to see Lassie and the Forest Service.  You will enjoy watching the scenes of early Forest Service stations and the controversies of the 1970's forward. 

If you camp on National Forest land you will get a better appreciation for Forest Service and the land they manage for YOU.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Bureau of Land Managment

Backroads Information-Bureau of Land Management

We will review the major land management agencies in detail starting with the largest public land agency in the United States.  The Bureau of Land Managment was founded with the merging of the General Land Office and the US Grazing Service in 1946.   However, Congress did not pass their Organic Act until 1976 with the passage of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act.  Even the BLM Organic Act included lots of Congressional direction for their big brother the Forest Service.

I transfered from the Forest Service to the BLM in 1980.   The Forest Service has the Forest Manual and Handbook System.  A set of written policies and procedures to insure that Forest Service employees tend to ALL do the SAME thing across the country.  They literally cover the entire office wall in most Forest Service offices.   The first day a BLM employee asked me about working for the Forest Service and I said it seems similar to BLM. For example I pointed to RED as opposed to GREEN manual system that BLM had in the office.   Well, it is different he replied and then started opening the RED BLM manuals.  They were all empty.
I don't know if BLM finally filled those books with paper, but it did enjoy working for a government agency where you did NOT have to first consult several hundred pages!!

The BLM manages 253 million acres of Federal land.  That is equivalent to a land area equivalent to two and a half California's.  That is a lot of land.  BLM has 10,000 employees and a budget of nearly a billion dollars.  They return 6.2 billion dollars in revenue to the Federal treasury primarily from oil and gas leasing of BLM managed lands.

BLM has a national office in Washington DC, State offices in those states with significant BLM acreage, District offices in the larger towns, and Area offices which are sometimes found in the same building as the District office or detached area offices in towns closer to the public lands.

BLM is more political than the Forest Service.  Sometimes their  Director will be a political appointment, while with other administrations it can be a career BLM employee.  Some administrations have also appointed political friends into the State Director position.  The natural resource professional positions make up the majority of the BLM workforce.

Each BLM state offices tend to be oriented towards the major issues in those states.  For example, in Montana and Wyoming oil and gas leasing is probably the most important BLM managment program.  In Idaho, it is primarily grazing.  Oregon is Forestry west of the Cascades and grazing east of the mountains.  The primary recreation focus is in southern California and western Arizona.

Recreation has never been a primary program for BLM.  However, they have done a good job with the money they have been given by Congress.  The BLM recreation program is managed by Outdoor Recreation Planners at the District and Area offices.  This is who you should ask to speak to when you need more information than the front desk can provide.  I always appreciated the "interruptions" when I was working.  I gave me a chance to talk to the people I was working for and make sure that we were providing a service that the American people wanted.

I did work for BLM in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho in 1980 and 1981.   I got to build a campground without spending any Congressional dollars.  Those BLM folks always knew how to get things done.

This is Huckleberry Campground on the St. Joe River in Idaho.  In 1980, the Federal Highway Administration was rebuilding that highway above the campground and wanted to put four feet of fill material into the flat.  I quickly sold 30 cottonwood trees to a logger from St. Maries for thirty dollars, since they were probably going to die with that much fill on their roots.  One day I went down with my assistant and we laid in the road and the spurs with the unheard of length of 55 to 65 feet!  I then asked the Highway Administration to put down a rock base between my markers and make me a little loop road with those funny little spurs.  

So for a couple days work and a thirty dollar profit for the trees we built a campground.  I have noticed that the BLM has invested more money into the campground over the years by paving the little loop road and adding electricity to the sites.   Here is the link:  Huckleberry Campground.

Hopefully, soon I will be able to return to camp there and remember those wonderful days of being a field Forester.

The BLM  manages the Long-Term Visitor Areas in California and Arizona.  Here is additional information and the location of the LTVA's:  Long-Term Visitor Areas.  This was BLM's response to the increasing snowbird use in the southwest deserts.  The agency deserves credit for protecting the desert environment while at the same time providing for public use and enjoyment.  The LTVA's are an example of pretty creative thinking.

Recreation is part of BLM's multiple use mandate from Congress.  They do a pretty good job, given the limited funds and emphasis from Congress.  Oh well, those oil and gas leases, timber sales, and grazing leases are more important to Congress, but recreation is what people really appreciate about BLM.

Explore the BLM lands through the web.  Here is the national office site from this you can jump to local areas:  BLM Recreation WebSite.  I am always surprised by the "new" areas that I discover just by cruising the net.  Then go out there and visit YOUR PUBLIC LANDS.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Long-Distance AM Radio's

Backroads Information-Long Distance AM Radios

Nighttime AM radio had a magic hold on Americans until FM became the radio medium of choice in the 1970's.  Throughout the 1930's through the 1960's nighttime AM radio broadcasts brought blues music from the south into northern Minnesota and Wisconsin.  The country music of Texas and Oklahoma was heard in the mid-west and the east coast.  The FCC for a long time protected the signal of clear channel stations at night so rural areas without radio service could hear radio broadcasts.

Here is a link to the history of clear channel stations in North America:  History of Clear Channel AM Stations.

I have lived in rather remote areas of the American West and have listened to clear channels at night for news of the outside world.  It was at that time the only connection we had to the rest of the country.  The diverse programming of AM radio has been basically taken over by talk radio.  And thanks to Art Bell, with syndication you can now listen to Coast to Coast all over the AM dial.  The good news is AM radio is slowly dying so much so that Clear Channel Corporation has donated six stations to local communities.  Maybe in the future AM radio will again have unique programming that will be worth staying up all night.

Today there are some clear channels with local programming.   But where AM radio shines is in emergency situations.  The Emergency Broadcast System has as it core an AM radio station since it is easy to keep up in an emergency.

When the 1989 earthquake hit the Bay Area I could not contact my parents since all phone lines were jammed.  I tuned my radio to KNBR 680 the official Emergency Broadcast Station and KGO 810 which also stayed on the air.  From the reports on the radio I could determine that they were probably fine since there were no reports of damage coming from their area.

In 1992,  I took the family on one of my business trips to Sacramento.  We drove over for dinner in Santa Rosa with an old friend of Susie's.  As we were returning on the backroads the radio informed us that riots had broken out throughout the urban areas of California.  Believe me it always seems worse when the road is dark and rainy.  I then remembered that KFBK 1510 was the clear channel out of Sacramento so we tuned the car radio to the frequency.  We learned that Sacramento was quiet and peaceful and we returned to downtown Sacramento.

Incident Management Teams managing natural and man-made disasters are using communications to better inform the public.  In the past, they teams have merely passed on information to the media.  They are starting to take a more active role to make sure the public receives the needed information.  Yes, this summer the management of the oil spill was a disaster itself, but I can tell you that the Coast Guard, BP, and many politicians will be learning how the Incident Command System works this winter!! 

So there are reasons for getting a good AM radio besides just the entertainment value.  First step is to get a tuned loop antenna.  Here is the article on a tuned loop antenna published a couple of weeks ago.  Tuned Loop Antenna's.  Get the antenna first.  A good antenna is more important than a good radio.  These tuned loop antenna's really work they will boost a scratchy and static ridden signal into a clear signal that sounds like next door.

If you listen to AM radio you need one of these antenna's!!

The radio is also important.  But the antenna is more important than the radio.  Just get one of these antenna's.

At one time there were lots of good AM radios.  Some of the best were the old AM radios in cars, but those days are long gone.  The better shortwave radios always had good AM reception.  I have owned dozens of radio's over the years.  The best radio's allow you to tune just to the left or right of the channel.  This way you can avoid interference from adjacent radio stations. 

I have the GE Super Radio.  That model has been replaced by the RCA RP7887.   Read the Amazon reviews.  It appears to also have been discontinued.  The Super Radio has great sound, great reception on both AM and FM, and runs forever a D cell batteries.

This radio has NO digital stuff or any other fluff.  This is a radio.  Period.  Without that that stuff it gets better reception than other radios, but is harder to tune.  If you tend to listen to one station rather than hop around the dial this is the radio for you.

Well, if you can find it for sale.

I do not own this radio, but the reviews have been great on AM reception.  It looks like a good radio particularly given its antenna.  Price is pretty good.

Here are some used radio's that I have owned that are great.  The Sony 7600GR shortwave radio.  Great portable shortwave and AM radio.  Mine died an untimely death.  Other than that probably my favorite radio.  However, difficult to find and expensive at $190.

Panasonic RF-2900 from the early 1980's.  Radio's from that time period were good.  If you can find them used or in garage sales snap them up.

The C Crane Company from Fortuna, California sells AM radio's made to their specifications.  They are into AM radio reception so their radio's are pretty good.  This is my current AM radio.

Lots of controls for making sure the AM signal is the best you can receive.  It will also charge the batteries inside the radio without need for an external charger.  It will run on AA batteries or D cell batteries.  My observation is that it comes a very close second to the GE Super Radio but is much easier to use.

There you are.  Lots of good AM radios to chose from.  And maybe with AM radio stations becoming less valuable we might be entering the golden age of AM radio once again with local programming taking center stage.

These are great radios, but make sure you get the antenna.  Remember the antenna is much more important than the radio.  Out on the backroads there is no substitute for a good AM radio and antenna.

Here is the view from Wenatchee as we wait for the end of the month.  I was hoping for good duck and pheasant hunting weather and instead we got skiing weather.  The low at Camas Meadows in late November was minus 12.8F.  We are looking forward to hitching up the 5th wheel and heading as quickly as possible to the southwest!