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.

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