Career Ladders for Temps?!?! Maybe Soon!

More interesting news for “disposable” employees!


NFFE-Backed Temporary Employment Reform Legislation Approved by Senate Committee

There may come a time when temporary employees actually have a career ladder!

“Thousands of wildland firefighters and other dedicated seasonal workers have been stuck for too long in dead-end jobs, not because of a lack of merit on their parts, but because of flawed regulations that do not recognize their years of service,” said Mark Davis, Vice President of the National Federation of Federal Employees (NFFE) and past President of the NFFE Forest Service Council.  “Many others leave and take their years of experience with them because of blocked career paths. After years of work, I’m optimistic that we are about to fix that.”

Of course, this is most directed towards firefighters, as so many timber temps have been jettisoned or have found “other employment”. Most temps would say that there is plenty of work to do, outside of their 1039 appointments but, that issue is not being addressed. The higher-ups choose to continue to embrace the 1039 appointments, thinking that policy is “good enough for Government work”. There really is nothing stopping the Forest Service from changing their policies on 1039 appointments. Truthfully, I’d like to see the temporary appointments scaled back to 800 hours, essentially forcing the Forest Service and other Agencies to hire more 13/13 permanent positions. Yep, make it too costly and “inconvenient” for them to continue using temps to do work that is needed, each and every year. It’s up to OPM to impose more rules, to stop the abuse of the temporary hiring authority.

Recreation on public lands not so big an economic generator

freeThanks to Ron Roizen for finding this op-ed in the Salt Lake Tribune.

Here’s a link and below is an excerpt ..

The sweeping landscapes and unparalleled vistas found on public land in Utah provide outstanding recreational experiences for both Utahns and those who visit our state. According to the Outdoor Industry Association, annual trip-related expenditures in Utah total over $12 billion, supporting an estimated 122,000 jobs and providing $3.6 billion in income. Make no mistake about it, outdoor recreation is big business in Utah.

But these numbers hide an important dichotomy: many, if not most, trip-related expenditures do not occur in the places people actually recreate.

As an example, my wife and I recently spent a week touring southeastern Utah, thoroughly enjoying our visits to Monument Valley, Hovenweep and Natural Bridges National Monuments, and the San Rafael Swell. We brought a week’s worth of food and beverage with us (purchased in northern Utah) and spent most of our nights at dispersed, no fee campsites.

Sharon’s note: From my perspective as an FS retiree, this is a reason that IMHO folks should have to pay for a dispersed camping sticker with the proceeds going to supporting management of dispersed camping recreation. $60 a year for one agency or 100 for both (FS/BLM).

Tongass roadless rule exemption: facts matter

The Ninth Circuit has reversed the exemption of Alaska from the Roadless Area Conservation Rule.  The case highlights some limits on the role of politics in agency decision-making.

While the dissent correctly asserts that “elections have consequences,” so do facts.  While Congress may choose to ignore them, the administrative and judicial branches may not.  The Ninth Circuit en banc review found that the Forest Service failed to explain why it ignored factual findings it had made under the previous Administration.

“Thus, contrary to the contentions of both Alaska and dissenting colleagues, this is not a case in which the Department—or a new Executive—merely decided that it valued socioeconomic concerns more highly than environmental protection. Rather, the 2003 ROD rests on the express finding that the Tongass Forest Plan poses only “minor” risks to roadless values; this is a direct, and entirely unexplained, contradiction of the Department’s finding in the 2001 ROD that continued forest management under precisely the same plan was unacceptable because it posed a high risk to the “extraordinary ecological values of the Tongass.” 66 Fed. Reg. at 3254. The Tongass Exemption thus plainly “rests upon factual findings that contradict those which underlay its prior policy.” Fox, 556 U.S. at 515. The Department was required to provide a “reasoned explanation . . . for disregarding” the “facts and circumstances” that underlay its previous decision. Id. at 516; Perez, 135 S. Ct. at 1209. It did not.

“The 2003 ROD does not explain why an action that it found posed a prohibitive risk to the Tongass environment only two years before now poses merely a “minor” one. The absence of a reasoned explanation for disregarding previous factual findings violates the APA. “An agency cannot simply disregard contrary or inconvenient factual determinations that it made in the past, any more than it can ignore inconvenient facts when it writes on a blank slate.” Fox, 556 U.S. at 537 (Kennedy, J., concurring).”

An agency has some explaining to do when it changes its mind, and that is going to be problematic if the underlying facts haven’t changed.  The Forest Service should think about that when it contemplates finding (under the new planning rule) that species it had classified as sensitive because of risks to their viability do not qualify as species of conservation concern because of lack of concern for their viability.

Managing High-Profile Adventure on Public Lands

Scott Jurek (photo from the Brooks Shoes website)

Scott Jurek (photo from the Brooks Shoes website)

While I’ve been away, the Denver Post has run a number of interesting original articles (kudos to them!) and I am very ..slowly..trying to catch up. This one is not about the Forest Service, but does talk about tensions rising over different uses, a familiar theme.

Here is the link (hint:turn your volume all the way down before you go to this link) and below is an excerpt.

Detractors come out

“Corporate events,” he wrote, “have no place in the park and are incongruous with the park’s mission of resource protection, the appreciation of nature and the respect of the experience of others in the park.”

The post spurred more than 800 comments from detractors.

Bissell’s response was in stark contrast to that of Yosemite National Park managers, who saw opportunity when Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson finished their record-setting climb of the Dawn Wall on El Capitan in January .

When the rock-climbing legends returned to the valley below El Capitan, a park-service-provided lectern stood ready before a phalanx of news cameras eager to catch the pair’s thoughts after their 19-day ascent.

“Forging a connection”

“So much of what we are doing is forging a connection between the parks and visitors so people understand why parks are here and people appreciate the environment we try to create,” Yosemite assistant superintendent Scott Gediman said.

The two parks’ reactions to internationally acknowledged athletic feats reveal divergent approaches to stewardship of public lands and highlight the increasing struggle for cash-strapped land managers dealing with inspiring, yet unpredictable, athleticism inside the country’s preserved wildlands.

“Most people are not going to do those things, but the value is that they are inspiring,” said Christian Beckwith, whose annual SHIFT Festival in Jackson, Wyo., gathers outdoor leaders to consider conservation alongside adventure and culture. “You might not be able to run the Appalachian Trail in 46 days. But you still might be able to go out for a run this evening and dig a little deeper because you are so fired up. The challenge is balancing that inspiration with the impact and long-term sustainability of our natural resources.”

When regulations for public lands were first etched into law decades ago, the rule-writers never suspected GoPro-strapped athletes would be leaping from quiet peaks with wingsuits or exploring remote backcountry on lightweight personal rafts.

DellaSala and Hanson vs. Objective Science

I recently received a copy of a book, “The Ecological Importance of Mixed-Severity Fires: Nature’s Phoenix,” edited by Dominick DellaSala and Chad Hanson. In the August edition of The Forestry Source, I write that the book is “advocacy first and science second.” You can get a sense of this in a NY Times op-ed by DellaSala and Hanson from last week, “More Logging Won’t Stop Wildfires,” in which they write:

“In the case of the Rim Fire, our research found that protected forest areas with no history of logging burned least intensely. There was a similar pattern in other large fires in recent years. Logging removes the mature, thick-barked, fire-resistant trees. The small trees planted in their place and the debris left behind by loggers act as kindling; in effect, the logged areas become combustible tree plantations that are poor wildlife habitat.”

I know Larry H. and others will have something to say about this.

Contrast the DellaSala/Hanson view with objective science in “Fuel and Vegetation Trends after Wildfire in Treated versus Untreated Forests, Forest Science, August 2015. The abstract:

“Increasing size and severity of wildfires have led to increased interest in managing forests for resiliency to future disturbances. Comparing and contrasting treated versus untreated stands through multiple growing seasons postfire provide an opportunity to understand processes driving responses and can guide management decisions regarding resiliency. In treated and untreated forests, we compared fire effects 2–10 growing seasons following fire on 3 different fires in New Mexico and Arizona. We estimated understory cover, standing crop, fuel loading, and basal area in (1) lop, pile, burn; (2) lop and scatter; (3) harvest and burn; and (4) untreated control stands. Untreated sites had persistent bare soil exposure and less litter cover up to 10 growing seasons after fire. However, there were few differences in standing crop among years and treatments. Falling rampikes contributed to greater coarse woody debris on untreated sites versus treated sites 6 –10 years postfire. However, there were few differences in fine fuel loading among treatments. Proactive management using the full range of silvicultural tools can reduce fire severity and create desired stand conditions, depending on management objectives.

I highlighted the last sentence for emphasis.

Three Links of Interest from Ron Roizen’s NWAF


Here are a couple items of interest from Ron Roizen..the links are in his post linked here. (Note, I tried to share it, but only WordPress-hosted blogs came up..) Thanks, Ron

Rep. Ken Ivory “What the BLM does NOT want you to Know!

Here is a link to a YouTube video of Rep. Ivory explaining the origins of federal land ownership in the American West. Linda Yergler was kind enough to forward this item to us.
Forest management: Real, collaborative models should be nurtured

Here’s a link to a Montana publication’s editorial advocating real collaborative efforts (over superficial ones, say?).

More Logging Won’t Stop Wildfires

And, finally, a link to a NEW YORK TIMES op-ed arguing, in effect, that reducing the fuel in a forest does not reduce the burn when it burns. Nick Smith’s invaluable daily was the source of this link.

Book Review: “Toward a Natural Forest: The Forest Service in Transition” by Jim Furnish

toward a natural forest

Many thanks to Teri Cleland for her contribution!

Review by Teri Cleeland, who retired from the US Forest Service in 2013 after a nearly 30 year career with assignments in Arizona, Washington DC, and Florida.

After seven years working as a seasonal archeologist for the Forest Service and Park Service, I finally landed a permanent job in 1989 on the Kaibab National Forest in northern Arizona. The job only came about because of a consent decree the Forest Service had signed to settle a lawsuit based on careless destruction of significant southwestern cultural sites during logging operations. “Save the Jemez” brought together a coalition of Tribes, environmental groups, even the State of New Mexico, against the Forest Service. The Agency bowed to legal pressure and instituted reforms that were a boon to my career and began a sustained period of protection and interpretation of many archeological and historic sites, as well as improved relations with Tribal governments. I got a ground floor view of the beginning of change in the Forest Service, change that has come fitfully through the years and continues today.

So it was fascinating to read Jim Furnish’s memoir about his career in the Forest Service, “Toward a Natural Forest” (Oregon State University Press, 2015). Furnish started as a company man in the “timber is king” era of the 1960s and slowly evolved a new land ethic, ending his career at the pinnacle of the agency as an iconoclast—and outcast—for his unconventional ideas and style, pushing for the embrace of ecosystem management.

This is a personal account that traces Furnish’s career and how certain experiences through the years changed his view on Forest Service management practices and his own land ethic. Only 200 pages long, it is well-written and engaging, short on details but with an unflinching viewpoint. It focuses primarily on timber issues, which keeps the book at a manageable length; although I found myself wishing he had included more about other issues such as recreation and tribal relations.

Anyone who worked for the agency (or against the agency) in the 1980s, 1990s and early 2000s will be interested to read Furnish’s accounts of some of the great controversies of the times. I found myself reflecting on my own perspective as a field staff officer hearing the buzz about how politicized the agency had become. I wanted to find out how Washington ticked, and so became an idealistic newbie in the Washington Office, where I briefly worked with Furnish on the Recreation Fee Demonstration program. From the fights over unrealistic timber targets to the Spotted Owl controversy and Chief Dombeck’s race to institute a Planning Rule and Roadless Rule in the waning years of the Clinton administration, Furnish provides his unique perspective.

The book also includes frank acknowledgement of Furnish’s own shortcomings and a fascinating account of how he vaulted from the supervisor of a relatively small national forest (the Suislaw) to the Deputy Chief for the National Forest System. Many names in the book will be familiar Forest Service followers. Furnish heaps praise on some and scorn on others, but never gets too personal. And he doesn’t spare himself from scrutiny.

Of his first ranger job on the Tensleep District on the Bighorn National Forest, Furnish said “. . . I came to sense I hadn’t made the grade as a district ranger, certainly not in the eyes of many of my peers, nor, to a degree, in my own eyes.” Later, as acting Forest Supervisor on the Suislaw National Forest, a clash of viewpoints on logging brought many personnel changes. “When presented with opportunities to bring careers to an end, I seized each chance. I had been ruthless in ways I thought myself incapable of.” That statement might have come back to haunt Furnish when the end of his own career came with the Bush administration: “I clearly had no legitimacy . . . I was marginalized, irrelevant. . . . Though the treatment was not unexpected, the rapidity with which it happened surprised me.” For Furnish, the end came not with a bang but a whimper, eased out with little fanfare.

But he continued to advocate for change in the Forest Service, and felt “sweet vindication” when a court ruling in 2012 supported his Roadless Area Conservation Rule. And he approves the latest Planning Rule as an improvement on the 2001 version he helped craft. Although the Forest Service has left many of the old timber battles behind, according to Furnish, it has a long way to go toward both restoring trust in the agency and restoring the National Forests. I think Furnish might be underestimating how far the agency has advanced a restoration ethic in the 13 years since he left the agency. But there is no doubt in his assessment that bold leadership is needed to achieve the goal of restoring and sustaining our nation’s forests.

With an excellent forward by historian Char Miller, I recommend this book as a contribution toward understanding a tumultuous period of land management in the United States with unique insights into the Forest Service organization and some of its key players.

Some better things coming from the Blues (Mtns.)

Since I criticized the FS there in a couple of previous posts, here’s a couple of things I think they’ve done right.

It’s important that the public understand the relationship between forest planning and travel management planning, and this explanation from the Wallowa-Whitman is reasonably clear.  I think it should work about as well as it can if the Subpart A (roads analysis) precedes forest plan revision, and Subpart B (designation of roads open to motorized vehicles) follows it.

A little further back, I faulted the FS for not being honest about the legality of the local ordinance that sought to regulate the federal government.  That came up again at this Malheur meeting, and the FS set the record straight: “Our attorneys do not believe the Grant County ordinance is legal,” Beverlin said.

Tidwell Endorses Arbitration

Text of an article from ClimateWire….

Forest Service seeks protection against lawsuits that delay management policies

Benjamin Hulac, E&E reporter

Published: Friday, July 17, 2015

Thomas Tidwell, the Forest Service chief, said yesterday that the agency would be open to a new arbitration system that would replace lawsuits meant to delay or derail federal forest management projects.

A May report for the Forest Service’s Northern Region, commissioned by the agency on regions of Montana, Idaho, Washington and the Dakotas, found that “in recent years, litigation has encumbered 40 to 50 percent of planned timber harvest and treatment acres” for the region (E&E Daily, May 11.

“I’m as frustrated as anybody when when we’ve done the work, we’ve done the job, we get litigated, a year later, the judge says ‘Yes you’re OK, go ahead,'” Tidwell told the Subcommittee on Public Lands, Forests and Mining.

Subcommittee Chairman Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) introduced a bill in June, S. 1691, that would create two methods to resolve or impede litigation against the service — an arbitration program and a bond posting requirement from plaintiffs planning on suing the agency.

“I do think that it may get at the issue,” Tidwell said of the arbitration suggestion.

Asked by Barrasso for his opinion on litigation from “rogue, activist groups” blocking “consensus” forest projects, Tidwell said the legal delays are “frustrating at best.” Republican senators and industry witnesses also said legal snags are particularly irritating to logging operations and safe forest management.

Tidwell said the arbitration suggestion had merit, but said he was concerned that the bond mandate would prevent cash-strapped parties from voicing their concerns and could stir up more legal challenges.

“I’m worried that it will create more controversy and opposition,” he said of the bonding provision.

Lawmakers on the panel also considered a bill from Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), S. 132, which the senator has said would provide stable business footing for the logging trade and local counties, and a proposal from Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) to raise so-called “cancellation ceilings.”

Fire suppression activities at risk

Under Flake’s measure, S. 326, the Forest Service could obligate a separate fund to cover the cancellation ceiling, the greatest amount a contractor can charge if its customer backs out of a contract. The current requirement on ceilings is “creating a reluctance around our workforce,” Tidwell said, adding that “the cost of fire suppression management” is the largest challenge facing the service.

The cost to fight fires in the United States has climbed sharply since the 1990s. So has the Forest Service’s budget to do so.

Of the agency’s 1995 appropriated budget, 16 percent went to firefighting activities, while 42 percent last year went to fight fires.

“That’s simply not sustainable,” Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) said of the ramp-up. “Any solution is going to have to include fixing the forest budget.”

Since 1980, the average tally of wildfires on federal lands has roughly doubled and, after including non-federal lands, has approximately tripled. More than 40 percent of the National Forest System is in risky fire conditions and “in need of fuels and forest health treatments,” according to the Forest Service.

Compared with the preceding four decades, the 2000s were easily the most damaging 10-year period for fires, consuming just less than 7 million acres, according to Agriculture Department figures.

Bipartisan support from Western senators

Since 2000, at least 10 states have seen their largest recorded fires.

“You have a lightning strike in our part of the country, and all of a sudden, you have an inferno,” Wyden said.

Jim Neiman, chief executive of Neiman Enterprises, a timber company, said at the hearing that “activist litigation” and regulations, like the National Environmental Policy Act, slow forest management.

“Wildfires don’t wait for environmental reviews,” he said. “The current processes are an impediment to increasing the current pace and scale.”

Senators present yesterday broadly agreed that actively managing federal forests and culling overstocked stands are important to prevent fires, especially in drought and drought-like conditions.

Experts should focus on the healthy function and density of forests to prevent the some of the worst long-term tinderbox situations.

An overstocked forest, when “overlayed with climate change,” said Neiman, is particularly concerning.

Flake’s bill has 12 co-sponsors, all Western senators, including four Democrats and Steve Daines (R-Mont.), who said blocking litigation of forest projects would be welcome. Daines also said yesterday that he would back efforts to curb fire borrowing — when the Forest Service or another agency dips into other funds for fire-prevention programs.