Rocky Barker's blog: Firestorm at the Forest Service

Rocky Barker writes about the funding crisis at the Forest Service. Their budget is way down. It used to be kept up by big appropriations for timber cutting and forest fire fighting, but the timber lobby has gone away, and appropriations to fight fires are no longer a blank check.

Barker says that no interest groups have emerged yet to lobby for the funding the Service needs to carry on its new missions.

I should add that the recreation tax is turning into a public relations disaster.

8:15 a.m. May 3: Rocky Barker’s blog: Firestorm at the Forest Service. By Rocky Barker – Idaho Statesman

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  1. Mike Post Avatar
    Mike Post

    It is no surprise that folks arn’t queing up to support the USFS. Washington (Rep AND Dem administrations) has gutted this organization and political appointees have forced many good “boots on the ground” forest employees to shut up or hit the road. The bottom line is that you can’t pander to the timber industry for a century, creating a fire management nightmare and road infested forests, without suffering some backlash. It does not help that now that the 2×4 industry is not paying the bills that the first solution USFS arrives at is to close or reduce service to recreational users; removing restrooms from camp sites, or closing them all together.

    There are some great folks in the USFS that could be good stewards of the forest. Perhaps this current lobbying vacuum is a great opportunity for conservation minded groups to fill the void.

  2. mikarooni Avatar

    Yes, the current lobbying vacuum would be a very good time for the environmental movement to adopt and sponsor the Service. Orphans, even orphaned junkyard dogs, usually remember who fed them when they were hungry, which would give us pivotal leverage with the agency that controls much of what we value most, even if it hasn’t in the past always sincerely shared our values. From another angle, we ought to be playing good cop to the Service at least as much as we play bad cop because, as the adage goes, you need to keep your friends close and your enemies even closer. Unfortunately, I don’t think we will be that smart. I have a hunch that we will just pout about all the past naughtiness of the timber beasts and the range crews and, like miffed children, we’ll refuse to play and just let the ship continue to drift. The problem with this approach is that a drifting public lands ship plays right into the hands of the rightwingers, who would like nothing better than to be able to point to a bankrupt federal government, derelict public lands programs, and have an excuse to propose a good dose of permanent “public/private partnership” as the solution, a bit corporate efficiency to help safeguard our precious public assets. We will live to regret giving them that opportunity, then again, we still don’t have sense enough to regret the opportunity that we gave them with our approach to the election of 2000…

  3. Wolfy Avatar

    Good posts. I agree – the Forest Service is broke; both financially and operationally. And there are no longer any industries out there lobbying to fix it. The timber lobby has found cheaper, less environmentally friendly 2X4’s in Canada. They really do not care about a bureaucratically, environmentally touchy-feely agency that cannot guarantee them a steady supply of cheap timber. The insurance industry folks used to reap huge profits from wildfires (or the threat of wildfires). Now they are doing damage control over other disasters like hurricanes and tornadoes. They also took a big hit in their corporate profits from the last 3 or 4 fire seasons. Wildfire in the rural/suburban landscape is not as profitable for the insurance companies as it used to be. You won’t see State Farm banging on the doors of congress to get more money for Forest Service suppression any more.

    The real question is who will save the Forest Service? There won’t be any help from the current administration; it is full of Bushites. Any one who could have made a real difference either has been transferred to meaningless jobs or is now retired. The new chief has a long history as a damage control agent. She has been relied upon by the Forest Service to go marching to places where the Forest Service that has “had a little trouble” and deal with the situation. And insuring that the agency has filled as many positions as possible with women and minorities has taken precedent over filling positions with people that actually know what they are doing.

    Everyone who has recreated or used the National Forests has the timber and fire industries to thank for the roads, trails, guest services, endangered species protections, natural interpreters, wildlife habitat restoration, watershed health, etc. The sad truth is that timber and fire has paid the bills for the public to be able to enjoy the forests.

    The old adage still rings of truth: be careful what you wish for. Timber and fire may have made the Forest Service what it was, but the environmental community has made it what it is today. The forests are now overstocked with trees just waiting to burn; it is made up of dilapidated buildings and facilities that are an embarrassment; roads and trails are not kept up; forest interpretive staffs are nearly non-existent; and there’s hardly anyone left to do the minuscule amount of work that is funded.

    So who is going to step up and save the Forest Service? I get so tired of hearing people whine about Rec fees. They ask why they should pay for something that they have already paid for? But they didn’t pay for it, timber and fire did. Rec fees are just rent for something that someone else paid for. The public is expected to pay to hunt and fish, why shouldn’t they kick in a little for other forms of recreation? Rec fees are probably not the answer to the long-term problems, but I ask, what is the answer? The beneficiaries, the stockholders, the owners of the new Forest Service are the environmental community. If you enjoy it, you should help fix it. If you don’t, congress is more than willing to sell it off to developers and government contractors to pay for this bloody war. And once its gone, its gone for good.

  4. Eric Avatar

    Interesting points. I’m willing to pay. I reckon it comes down to figuring out a new industry to take the place of timber. Something that mutually beneficial to humans and the woods.

  5. Roberto Avatar

    The only problem with the “fee demo” program is the fees usually go to 1 or 2 large district projects, leaving trail maintenance etc. to volunteers….
    Also, the fees rarely go to support the direct location where the payee has recreated.
    With less than 10% of our remaining ancient forests left, I think it’s high time that we all shed a few tears for all that has been lost and learn from our collective mistakes. All those roads and clearcuts break my heart, not to mention our fragile biosphere.
    It’s time for Americans to get off their large rumps, turn off the TV and really take a deep look at the world around them before it all disintegrates.


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

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