I was going to post a story a friend who runs a local manufacturing company just shared with me about the absurd experience with the EPA he had in his past. It was too depressing, plus I don’t think I can share it without giving away names … I am rewriting it as a piece of fiction and will post soon. In the meantime, here’s Holly Fretwell on what has become of the US Forest Service, or as she calls it, the US Fire Service:
The first national forests were set aside more than 100 years ago. Under Forest Service management they were intended to provide a continuous flow of water and timber for Americans. By the 1980s the agency provided about 25 percent of US softwood lumber consumption. The timber budget was the largest of all agency activities (see chart). Timber harvest on the national forests has declined by more than 80 percent since 1985. The current agency mission is ecosystem protection but spending has shifted to wildfire management which now makes up nearly half of the agency’s budget. More than half of that is for fire suppression. Nonetheless, wildfire burned nearly 70 million acres over the past decade.
Are Americans getting what they pay for on public lands? Even the General Accounting Office [PDF] questions that:
Historically, the Forest Service has not been able to provide Congress or the public with a clear understanding of what the Forest Service’s 30,000 employees accomplish with the approximately $5 billion the agency receives each year.
I still like the Forest service, at least they at least try to serve their constituents. The problem for them is that the USFS has many masters and it is totally impossible for them to objectively serve them all.
The Buffett tax could finance a good part of that $5 billion budget.
Question: is there any debate between the boots-on-the-ground people in the Forest Service (who might have different ideas about harvesting timber) and the theoretical folks back in Washington? The people who fight those fires, risking their lives, have to have some ideas about how to manage the forests better than the lawyers at the NRDC.
Pine trees really don’t live that long — even “old growth” trees are only a couple of hundred years old for a few species — and if they are not cut down for lumber, preferably by “clear cutting,” pine trees get blown over by the wind, die from insects and other parasites, and litter the forest floor with dead trees that just rot away. Meanwhile, no vegetation grows under the shade of the forest, and Bambi has to look for food outside the forest. Same thing for Thumper and other English-speaking rodents. (How come none of the animals in Bambi speak Spanish?)
In national parks, it’s worse. All those dead trees are fuel for forest fires, like the big Yellowstone fire decades ago. That fire cleared a lot of land and enabled new growth to occur. I remember in the olden days at Teton Valley Ranch taking my campers on what was supposed to be an easy hike around Leigh Lake. Instead of doubling back when we ran out of cleared trail, we spent most of the afternoon and early evening bushwhacking through a dense tangle of fallen trees. We scared a bull moose from his resting place, and instead of stomping on us, he just trotted through the branches toward the trail. Smart moose. We were lucky we did not run into any brown bears.
Just as the US military has 5 air forces, we have multiple agencies in charge of lands and forests, the US Forest Service and BLM being the two big shooters. These two departments now arm their field staff, they pack pistols just like the other overlapping law enforcement efforts blanketing the country. It’s not as noticeable in an urban setting but in a place like southern New Mexico the number of armed government employees from ICE, BLM, and the state, all the way down to the local constabulary is pretty impressive.