Sierra Club article on “What do we owe … workers?”

This is about the coal industry and climate disruption, but it reminded me of the changing policies on national forest lands and their effects.  Not the same, but some common threads.

One is the idea that is hard to talk about solutions when there is still hope that the problem will go away.  Forest planning has an important role to play in establishing common, reasonable expectations.  I think it could do better than it’s done.


  1. Of course, it would be nice if Forest Planning figured out where they will be getting forestry workers when they “accelerate the pace and scale” of forest management. Their is no pool of “ready-to-work” forestry folks, waiting for the phone call.

    One of the least experienced areas is in “Timber Sale Administration”, where there is no career ladder and no trainee positions available, to fill one of the hardest to fill spots in forestry. You cannot learn how to control loggers in a college class. Writing up legally-binding reports is a skill that is difficult to learn on the job. Confronting experienced loggers with difficult personalities is not for the meek. They often know the Timber Sale Contract much better than those inspecting the work.

    Additionally, the Forest Service doesn’t hire many “Harvest Inspectors”, who can do much of the actual fieldwork and even “accept work” in an official capacity. The big-wigs feel that merely sampling the logger’s work is just fine and dandy.

  2. Larry,
    We have corresponded on many previous posts. As a Forestry Management Degree holder, with a System Arborist position, I tend to worry about this less than you. I personally insure the removal of hard to get trees. I have the experience, I just have to expand my presentation and acceptance within the hiring classes opinion of my type of work allowing them to understand that I deal with tree trimmers in much the same way you deal with loggers. My personal opinion is that I would rather have a forester position, of which my wife just got with less experience because I was overlooked as just an Arborist. We still have hope, remember that at all cost!


    • Timber Sale Contracts are complicated documents, and you cannot force a contractor to do something not covered by the contract. Mostly what I was talking about is the lack of experience needed to field many dozens of crews. I doubt they will be able to hire enough crew leaders qualified to teach the newbies. Usually, an experienced person at least knows their conifer tree species. On my last crew, we “drafted” a wildlife guy and a recreation guy, and they couldn’t tell the difference between a Doug-fir and a white fir. And then we also had the even less experienced guys, who did OK but required many months of on-the-job training. And, then, there is also the issue of having the required timber cruising certification, too. Most marking crews do not have anyone who knows anything about logging, like knowing how to fell a tree, knowing whether a feller-buncher can get a particular tree, and knowing whether a tree is cull, or not.

      Regarding working with loggers, you need to know the limitations of man and machine, and you just cannot get that experience from reading a book (as you know). I’ve always been proud of my ability to get a logger’s best work. I often used techniques that other USFS didn’t want to use. I’d often get the Ranger District “Problem Logger”, and I would end up getting excellent results from them. If you “write them up” for doing good work, they want to do more. If you show confidence in the timber faller’s abilities, you can pick and pluck some of the excess trees that would, otherwise, be left as ladder fuels and future hazard trees.

      I do think that someone like you could work well as a Harvest Inspector. In my case, they have now made the certification process for Timber Sale Administrators too difficult for non-graduates to pass. I had a very small window to get in but, couldn’t even apply for the position. I needed to have a year of “time in grade” at the GS-8 level (to qualify for the standard GS-9 position), and no jobs were offered at the GS-8 level. In the end (my career is over, at age 57), I had three months of GS-8 level experience. Such are some of the problems of today’s Forest Service.

  3. I read the article. Basically, the enviros are unpopular and now want government money to “retrain” all those whose lives would be clearcut in the name of, um, climate disruption? No longer warming, no longer change, but disruption, Jon?
    And there’s also a strictly political concern that unions (read Democrat) might turn on the Greens if the unions are sacrificed to the cause — um, disrupted in the name of disruption?
    Speaking of disruption, right now I can’t see any further than about a mile, the sun is a red glob, and there’s habitat attributes going away right now. We knew this was coming, but now the yap is to just split off the fire money so the USFS has no accountability, no incentive to go, gee, lets spend some of this on management to avoid loss of stuff we like?

  4. Back on topic, when differing sides cannot even agree on the problems and their scope, how can we agree on “common, reasonable expectations”? There are still a great many out there who think the solution is to do nothing, despite peer reviewed science. The Sierra Club’s one-size-fits-all solution cannot work for many places, especially in the west. On the other side, plans to manage our public lands haven’t thought out how to implement them. It is more like “It would be nice if we could….”. Pie-in-the-sky from both sides!

    • Be nice if? No, just fire up the power tools. If it makes money and covers a lot of ground, it will likely work. Doesn’t have to have the same rate of return as REITs, the wildernesses and parks can burn flat for all I care, but ethically, I’d want induced seasonal fire — but on the modern parts of the forest, just go.

      • My point is that all plans coming from Congress cannot be implemented, even if they were to be signed by the President. Even if litigation was banned. Even if the budget was increased. The Forest Service doesn’t have the manpower or the expertise, in the fields that matter. The Forest Service cannot “just go”.

        • Then turn it over to the states. No offense, but the deadwood can stay with the US Wilderness Service and federal retirement. Forestry that makes a profit is not rocket science or impossible. The state of Montana makes a decent return and gets good results….on a cash basis these programs could start small and focused on the highest risks, and grow with plow back of the proceeds.
          As for expertise, again, this stuff is not that complex. When you boil it all down, when the “leave” is visually attractive (as it was in the smallpox interstice), isn’t that almost always a “desired condition” from an eco-standpoint? Heckyeah it is.

            • Larry, I’m referring to what I want, not my expected outcome. You know, the ASK? And when you talk about consensus, remember the bad actors out there who are paid to waste the time of others.
              Full agreement is impossible under those conditions — so I would hope that somehow collaboration or compromise carves off those who really and truly deserve to be kicked to the curb.

  5. Sad but true situation in WVA and elsewhere in coal country. The west is full of ghost towns where work dried up. A tough time for folks who happen to live there and want to stay there. I understand that the free market is having more of an effect than regulations (ie, cheap natural gas overtaking coal, but even now gas companies in N. Dakota are facing tough times). Whatever the cause, there are no easy answers. Post WWII we had a huge investment in infrastructure across the US that helped take care of workers laid off from the Defense industry. How I wish that Congress would fund infrastructure improvements by increasing the gas tax. Maybe if they called it a “displaced worker premium” instead of a tax.

  6. Fascinating discussion and especially interesting to those of us who have been a part of it. I have a feeling that we’ve actually turned the corner in management and the public has now realized, thanks hundreds of thousands of acres of dead trees and endless smoke-filled days, that the “no action” alternative is not acceptable. The most encouraging sign of turn-around is the house approval of HR 2647 (Resilient Federal Forests Act of 2015) that simultaneously addresses the problems of underfunding (by using sale receipts for additional treatments), serial litigation, EIS and EA overkill, and diversion of resource funds to fire control. While the opposition of fringe environmental groups is to be expected, the opposition of the Administration to this bill (collaboration will solve all problems) is quite inexplicable. The Forest Service, nowadays a politically driven caricature of resource managment, has done nothing to make clear its position on this bill – a bill that would restore, in large part, the agency’s pride, self-respect and morale by enabling it to actually “Take care of the land and serve the people”.

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