Disappearing Districts: A hundred years of lumping and leaving!

Alpine Guard Station History: In the 1920's, the Gunnison County area was home to one of the largest sheep grazing industries in the nation and over 1,000,000 sheep were shipped out of Montrose annually. The Alpine Guard Station was built so the Forest Service Ranger could oversee operations associated with permitting and sheep grazing. In this 3 room cabin, the Forest Ranger and his family spent each summer while he “rode the range.”

Alpine Guard Station History:
In the 1920’s, the Gunnison County area was home to one of the largest sheep grazing industries in the nation and over 1,000,000 sheep were shipped out of Montrose annually. The Alpine Guard Station was built so the Forest Service Ranger could oversee operations associated with permitting and sheep grazing. In this 3 room cabin, the Forest Ranger and his family spent each summer while he “rode the range.”

While linking to the Rocky Mountain Mountaineers website (for the previous post on the OPM data breach), I ran across this history piece by Tom Thompson.

Here’s an excerpt:

“From 1960 to 1980, another 26 districts were eliminated. Regional Forester Craig Rupp was not pleased with the direction this was going and in January, 1983 he wrote to the Forest Supervisors and stated emphatically that he was
“unwilling to agree to any further combinations at this point in time and for the foreseeable future.”
The essence of his position was laid out in this one paragraph:

The Ranger District remains the front line of the Forest Service contacts. The District
personnel provide the very large majority of visible perception of ‘what the Forest
Service is’ to the public. They have the day-to-day contact with the largest amount of the
public and the best opportunity to: manage the resources, manage use of resources,
manage activities, prevent destruction, decide local issues on local grounds, act as
agents of the public, prevent mistakes rather than being reactive, and represent the
Forest Service and its goals and objectives to the public.

He believed the arguments to combine districts that dealt with budget savings were short-sighted
and the organizational loss of presence and availability to the public were just not worth it. He said he would
“rather see you return to one person Ranger districts with zoning of all technical and professional assistance, than combine Ranger Districts and lose Ranger contacts.”

What do you all think?

6 Comments

  1. In its relentless pursuit of cost-cutting through consolidation the U.S. Forest Service has committed some colossal blunders and is suffering the consequences. Consolidating financial services at Albuquerque is one; ranger district consolidation is another. I have personally witnessed this on my home forest where 4 districts have been merged into one. The district ranger is no longer a neighbor and part of the fabric of the community but an unrecognized faceless bureaucrat. To the alienated rural communities the U.S. Forest Service is no longer a friend and helpmeet but a passing stranger and often an enemy who has taken away jobs, shut down local mills and ruined the economy. The “old time ranger” who would “sit and whittle” (in R-8, the George Tannehills, Ranger Woodys, Preach Parsons) are now only legend.

  2. There is something to be said for having “local ownership” of their ranks. A Ranger District with a lot of work to do every year is better off not zoning, especially if the home base is on the other Ranger District. On my last Ranger District, there was just one official supervisor (passed both training sessions) to run the whole RD, and that was the District Ranger. He was very surprised to learn that me, a lowly temporary employee, also passed the supervisor training. He ended up “zoning out” the labor-intensive timber work, and not getting the “product” he had hoped for (and got with the previous crew). The last I heard, they were trying to put a new crew together, from scratch. Well…. good luck with that! *smirk*

  3. Other than being a summer employee of the Forest Service during the early/mid 60’s while a college student, I have never been federal employee. However, over the years, I’ve had plenty of time to observe federal land management.

    I’d agree that the ranger district is the front line “face” of the Forest Service; these are the people who are (were) in the trenches and vital members of local communities. As the ranger districts go away, that face also goes away. Instead, by moving to urban centers, the Forest Service has become detached from the land and the people who live and work on or around federal lands. As they distance themselves from the land, I feel they also become less knowledgeable about the lands they manage and, very importantly, the people who depend on those lands.

    Because those living in urban centers do not live on the lands or depend on the lands, management decisions are increasingly made by people who have little stake in the lands. This has been to the detriment of local communities.

  4. I have lived through not only ranger district consolidation but also national forest consolidation. The ranger district consolidation was decided on the basis of whether or not the ranger district office was a federal building or a leased building – if you had a leased building, your district was consolidated into one with a federal building, without regard to anything else. I think that the closed ranger district was down to about 15 employees at the time and that rapidly shrank to 5 or 6 – people retired or left and their jobs were refilled (if at all) at the other location. Employees on the existing district who inherited the recreation programs of the other district refused to deal with the popular recreation sites – they had trash cans and toilets removed from popular riverbars and closed all of the campgrounds – you can imagine the result. The District Ranger was new and not able to deal well with conflict. He was eventually demoted, but by then the damage was done. The FS tried to maintain at least a small prescence in the vacated community – special forest products permits were huge – but that was also abandoned after a few years due to the “inconvenience” of the other district having to cover that when someone was sick or on vacation. It was an incredibly sad time to see a community that had valued the contributions of FS employees be abandoned by the FS, including pulling out all of the fire-fighting resources stationed there, without any consideration other than whether the building was leased or federally owned. It was also sad to see that the special forest products collectors and folks who wanted firewood, who lived marginal lifestyles to begin with, had to drive 30 additional miles to purchase a permit.

  5. I also remember the first time that there was a fire on my ranger district after the consolidation. In addition to the 30 miles additional driving to respond, once the fire folks were out in the woods checking on the report of a fire, they had no idea how to find their way around. We heard them on their radios and could tell they were totally lost. We called and offered to assist with the response and we were told to stay put, and they could handle it just fine…

  6. Yes, it was another step in the wrong direction. Sale administrators from Ohio who don’t know anything about Oregon forests. District rangers who don’t live in the district but in the city 3 hours away. Campgrounds closed, road closed, decisions make by people sitting in front of there computers in urban centers. It is a poor way to take care of our forests.
    And they always blame it on the budget. But somehow they found the money to destroy 8 miles of a perfectly good road this summer. Guess it more important to destroy roads then it is to pick up the trash.

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