Trump will pick former fertilizer salesman & vet Sonny Perdue to be Sec of Ag (and oversee USFS)

As all of us clearly know, the person who ultimate oversees the U.S. Forest Service is the Secretary of Agriculture. Lots of people seem to assume that the U.S. Forest Service falls under the Secretary of Interior, but nope.

The choice for Sec of Ag is a huge deal if you care about public lands because the U.S. Forest Service manages 193 million acres of federal public lands all across the country (154 national forests and 20 national grasslands). That means that the U.S. Forest Service manages 30% of America’s federal public lands legacy. The USFS also manages 33% of the acreage within America’s 110-million acre National Wilderness Preservation System.

Some background information about Sonny Perdue can be found here.

In 2014, Perdue mocked “the left” and “mainstream media” for its coverage of climate change. Writing in an op-ed published in the National Review, Perdue challenged the connection between climate change and drought, extreme precipitation, and other weather events. He also wrote that climate change has “become a running joke among the public” and “liberals have lost all credibility when it comes to climate science because their arguments have become so ridiculous and so obviously disconnected from reality.”

In 2007, in the midst of an epic drought, Perdue implored residents to pray for rain, holding a prayer vigil outside of the Georgia state Capitol.

His track record on environmental issues is not much better. As governor, he championed the expansion of factory farms, and pushed against gas taxes and EPA efforts to enforce the Clean Air Act.

Perhaps Sonny Perdue will host a prayer vigil or two during wildfire season. Maybe he could also ask the Lord to forgive environmentalists for causing all these wildfires.

31 Comments

  1. Uh, what about…

    “Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack: I pray for rain every day” – Jul 18, 2012

    http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-drought-vilsack-idUSBRE86H19W20120718

    “USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack said he was praying everyday for rain, he told Obama the drought is not as bad as in the last great drought of 1988.

    “I get on my knees everyday and I’m saying an extra prayer right now,” Vilsack said. “If I had a rain prayer or a rain dance I could do, I would do it.”

  2. Can’t say the Sec. of Ags. in my lifetime have ever been very progressive; lots of Midwest farm boys from the Alpha Gamma Rho fraternity – the aggie house (I know – I’m an AGR).

    But Amen Sonny I’ll be there — Please bring your boots and a Pulaski. I’d love to talk w/ you about opportunities to restore fire to a more natural role in our forests.

    A real key will be who’s appointed to be Under Sec. over the FS – remember Reagan’s pick of John Crowell the former Louisiana Pacific lawyer? My recollection is that the order was to up the cut and of course the “can-do” FS said “Yes sir!”

    • Yup, I remember well, and the terrible political decisions that rained down upon us as we struggled to craft the first “Forest Plans” here on the IPNF. The unofficial (but real) directions from on high on how to ignore NFMA got so nasty I could no longer tolerate the rascals and opted for an “early-out” retirement. Worst financial decision I ever made, but best decision personally. The Reagan years were the beginning of the USFS downfall in integrity and staff morale. The good-ole days were over. It became a job, not a mission.
      As Trump would say in one of his tweets, “so sad”.

  3. As Old woodsman points out, the undersecretary appointment will be more telling. Until then, here’s some speculation . . .

    If I had to characterize the nascent Trump administration in one phrase, it would be “Tea Party.” Isolationist foreign policy. Protectionist on trade. Distrustful of government. Fiscally tight-fisted, except when it comes to defense and security.

    How would the Tea Party administer national forests? First instinct — repeal rules, as many as possible, especially rules perceived to keep people from using national forests. Repealing rules, however, is not so easy, unless Congress repeals the underlying laws that require the rules in the first instance. That will require bi-partisan support in the Senate. At the end of the day, I just don’t see the Trump administration putting in the kind of rigor and intellectual thoughtfulness that’s necessary to this re-envisioning of public lands policy; not with health care reform dominating the legislative agenda.

    Second instinct — cut more timber. But, that requires more money (national forest timber sales are even more below-cost now than they were back in the days when costs were paid lip service), which goes against their fiscally-conservative grain. For example, the Tea Partiers in Congress have turned a deaf ear to bi-partisan pleas for “disaster” funding of wildfire fighting. Tea Partiers hate disaster funding because it’s off-budget and difficult to control. In Secretary Vilsack’s parting words, he made yet one more plea for more fire money, notwithstanding 2016’s boring fire year on national forests (fewest ever ignitions and only average acres burned). Expect a Tea Party administration to say the so-far unspeakable — control firefighting costs! In sum, when it comes to logging levels, it would not surprise me if a Trump/Tea Party administration ends up much like Bush, Jr., cutting less national forest timber in its 8 years than Obama did during his.

    One thing different about Secretary-nominee Perdue from previous Ag appointments; he comes from a timber state (Georgia ranks third in structural lumber production). But, and it’s a big BUT, Georgia’s timber is grown on private lands. Do Georgia woodlot owners want their taxes to underwrite federal government competition in the wood producing market? I doubt it.

    • Andy, I agree with you on the “it’s not a big enough deal to Trump” to carve new policy territory in our humble federal natural resource arena. And if there is limited energy for bipartisan work (by both parties) I wish they’d focus all the (apparently limited) energy they have on health care. But who knows? Like you said, it depends on the undersecretary and the secretary and where they want to spend their energies.

  4. How is it that, “Second instinct — cut more timber. But, that requires more money (national forest timber sales are even more below-cost now …)” always seems the case with the federal government but private timber companies not only can find the money to plan AND (gulp) they can even make a profit? Seems like there must be some terrible bureaucratic inefficiencies or the hurdles they must jump through are terribly onerous – I sometimes think the hurdles are intended to be onerous.

    • Indeed, Dick, the “hurdles,” i.e., consideration of and protection for things people care about, are higher for public versus private forests. That wasn’t always the case. In the old days, the Forest Service managed public forests much like their private-sector counterparts. Beginning in the 1960s, Congress passed a series of laws that raised the bar, and costs, on public lands.

      Georgia forests grow timber fast, bested only by high-rainfall coastal national forests in Oregon, Washington and northern California. Georgia forests are flat, reducing road costs substantially. National forests? Steep — expensive to road and to maintain those roads. Back in the days when mills were cutting Nature’s backlog of national forest inventory, aka, big old-growth logs, purchasers could make money. With the pumpkins gone, many of the smaller trees don’t pay their way out of the woods. The Forest Service now pays loggers to remove trees it wants gone. Will the Tea Party want to foot this bill?

  5. I’d suggest that the coastal private forests in Oregon, Washington, and northern California can grow forest just as fast as the national forests; after all, the climate, soils, and tree species are pretty much identical. Yes, Congress raised the bar with a very extensive/complicated series of laws but that is not to say clean water, endangered species, road maintenance, and so forth are of no concern to private forests. On average, private forest lands are probably not as steep but that is not to say they are all on flat ground. I still think someone with a business background could actually manage federal forests profitably and not be a drain on the federal treasury while, at the same time, maintaining good waters, habitats, recreation, etc.

    I just finished reading a book by Dr. Jim Bowyer, The Irresponsible Pursuit of Paradise. He points out that an unintended consequence of the Northwest Forest Plan is that, after growing timber faster than was being cut in the southern US for most of the 20th century, the South is now cutting faster than growth. In other words, a consequence of “saving” PNW forests, establishing national monuments, wilderness, etc. is that those areas no longer provide certain resources and require the American consumer to look elsewhere. All too often, that means importing from other regions of the country or from other countries.

    • Dick, you’re right (and I didn’t mean to imply otherwise), private PNW coastal forests grow timber just as fast, or faster, than do their neighboring national forests. I recall from my OSU forestry days that Starker Forests perennially wins the “longest leader” contest for the Douglas-fir with the greatest annual height growth. My earlier comment compared Georgia private forests with national forests — only PNW coastal forests can compete. The Rockies, inland west, southwest, and much of California are too dry and/or cold.

    • Btw, Dick, timber growth exceeds removals in the southern states. For example, in Georgia: “There were 22.0 billion cubic feet of wood volume in softwoods and 21.7 billion cubic feet in hardwoods, for a total of 43.7 billion cubic feet, with growth to removals rates of 1.4 for softwoods and 1.8 for hardwoods.”

      • Andy

        Thanks for pointing out the bad info that Dick received from Dr. Bower or elsewhere.

        Here is how the Southern states stack up against the West in Millions of Cubic Feet:
        See pages 24-25 @ https://www.fs.fed.us/sites/default/files/media/types/publication/field_pdf/forestfacts-2014aug-fs1035-508complete.pdf

        SOFTWOODS:

        –> 2011 US South:
        – Growth = 8,808, Removals = 5,335, Growth/Removals = 1.65 = looks good
        – Mortality = 1,248, Growth/(Removals + Mortality) = 8,808/6583 = 1.34 = still looks good
        Note: Growth/(Removals + Mortality) is more informative than Growth/Removals

        –> 2011 US West:
        – Growth = 5,344, Removals = 2,345, Growth/Removals = 2.28
        – Mortality = 3,350, Growth/(Removals + Mortality) = 5,344/5695 = 0.94 = Removals are too light.

        –> SOFTWOOD CONCLUSION:
        Mortality in the US South is more reasonable than in the US West = removals in the US South contribute to a healthier forest as a result of lowering mortality through a lower stand age which increases growth rates when removals are done within reason. Without more information, my simplistic opinion is that the excessive mortality in the US West is the result of terrain differences and unhealthy federal policies on the disproportionately large federal timberland holdings versus private holdings.

        HARDWOODS:

        –> 2011 US South
        – Growth = 5,002, Removals = 2,714, Growth/Removals = 1.84
        – Mortality = 3,853, Growth/(Removals + Mortality) = 5,002/6,567 = 0.76 = Removals are too light

        –> 2011 US West
        – Growth = 744, Removals = 101, Growth/Removals = 7.34
        – Mortality = 329, Growth/(Removals + Mortality) = 744/430 = 1.73 = Removals are too light

        –> HARDWOOD CONCLUSION:
        Without digging deep, I’ll guess that a detailed study would show that accessibility/terrain issues, reduced demand for hardwood based paper, an immature bio-energy market, oak wilt disease and low sawlog/veneer quality (from past high-grading and minimal interest in forest management due to a large percentage of hardwoods being shade tolerant and more suitable to natural regeneration) are limiting the opportunity to harvest trees before they die which in turn is lowering the growth rate.

  6. Gee, Sonny has written snarky comments.. I’m glad there’s no one here who does that ;)!

    As to the claims about drought and extreme precipitation, check this out (pages 21 and on have direct quotes from IPCC AR5) (file:///C:/Users/Owner/Downloads/VWN.pielke.pdf)

    Now, some folks here have said Roger is not “mainstream” but even if you don’t believe what his research papers show, you should believe the IPCC (unless he’s misquoting them and you can point that out.)

  7. Other perspectives, mostly in relation to private lands and game species (especially those that benefit from cutting down trees):

    “We’re happy to see that a true sportsman is a candidate for this position, especially one who worked to create a culture of conservation during his tenure as governor,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “It’s clear to us that, where private lands dominate the landscape, local hunters and anglers track and care deeply about ag policy and its impacts on fish, wildlife, and water quality. They can feel optimistic that Perdue is up to the task of serving rural communities and our natural resources well.”

    “We believe Gov. Perdue’s experiences afield will lead to a greater understanding of conservation needs, shared access, and multi-use opportunities on the numerous public lands managed by the USDA,” says George Thornton, CEO of the National Wild Turkey Federation.”

    http://ravallirepublic.com/business/agriculture/article_d3d7ee18-6399-58cf-82bf-727bdf34ab3e.html

    • The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership not only gets money from Donald Trump Jr (and saw their budget increase by $1.5 million in the past few years) but they have gone very far off the deep end, in my opinion. If Teddy Roosevelt was alive he’d sue TRCP for defamation. They are a ‘sportsmen’s’ group, sure, but if anyone is thinking they are a go-to ‘conservation’ or ‘environmental’ group is mistaken. Same thing can be said about the National Wild Turkey Federation, but I’m not sure if they also get money from Trump Jr.

      It’s also worth noting that the TRCP has censored and removed some comments from their blog post about Sonny.

      • Matthew, I’ve always found TRCP to be an interesting group. When I was working on one national thing, I had to sit down with their staff (as if they were calling the shots) during an R administration. I figured they were a R oriented group. But then under a D administration we had the same thing (told to do what TRCP says, even if it doesn’t make sense). Probably the greatest Policy/Political Mystery I never solved ;).

  8. With a Federal hiring freeze now in effect, I would encourage temporary employees to abandon the Forest Service. Force the Administration to spend MORE money on outsourcing fieldwork, while reducing on-the-ground progress. Chances are, this summer will be a lost opportunity to get essential work done. We’ll see how long it will take for the Forest Service to discover that temporary employees have reached their breaking points, with a promise of no good jobs in the near future.

    • Again, more cuts in personnel and funding for the agency. These continuing decisions by both the Congress and now the POTUS to defund most “good” agencies is the MAJOR reason why high-quality prep of needed timber cutting doesn’t get done. These reductions in log output over the past few years are much more related to lack of people/funds than anything else, including lawsuits and such. Not to mention the cost to normal functions by the diversion of funds to fight fires. Things are not looking good in D.C.

      • Maybe the Republicans think they can overturn all those cornerstone environmental laws, making it easy to “just cut the big ones”, with no need to think about the impacts or results.

        When an employee has no career ladder, they stop caring about their current job. Been there and done that.

  9. It is looking like there needs to be an outreach (from this blog) to newly-muzzled Forest Service employees, who are now banned from expressing their opinions through Agency blogs and Facebook pages. What GS rating would a ‘Master of Propaganda’ position in the Forest Service earn? *smirk*

    I guess Trump wants to get rid of some of those ‘chiefs’, making the Forest Service top-heavy, along with all the ‘Indians’. If he outsources all the fieldwork, he will still need hordes of inspectors to accept the work done by contractors. Can he ‘make the National Forests great again’ in just 4 years, with a skeleton crew at the helm?

    • Larry, I think administration officials, when they speak officially, are supposed to give the administration position. That’s part of it being the executive branch. So it’s not that they’re banned from expressing their personal opinions to others, but just as members of the administration. And generally through time, unmuzzling the agency communications people has to do with trust, so administrations generally tighten up early and then loosen through time (some more and some less). And some might see communications people as “propaganda ministers” but that’s what they are hired to do- communicate what the administration is doing, and trying to do.

      I can personally attest that you CAN (or at least you could, during the last administration) still get in trouble for expressing your opinions on your own time, but that is even more complicated by random factors like how visible it is, what you pick to sound off about, and so on. So if a current employee were to ask me, I would be careful about comments in the web-o-sphere.

      • All of the USDA is now banned from using social media, for ANY reason. Apparently, there is one rogue in Badlands National Park (Dept of Interior, also under a ban) who defied the order. A surprising number of entire Departments are under the ban, as of a few days ago. Under Obama, most of the blogs I saw on Facebook seemed to not be flavored with partisan politics, for the most part.

        Yes, I was once reported to the Chief, by an ‘eco-warrior’, for not supporting the Bush Administration in a USENET newsgroup (using the USFS Internet Dialup “remote access) Ironically, the next day the Chief had a speech about anti-forestry Internet actions and disinformation. Nothing ever got back to me but, I did have to tell my boss about the incident, so he wouldn’t get blind-sided. After that experience, I was much more wary, knowing that some people on the Internet would have no remorse in destroying an opponent’s life, just to shut me up.

        I was hoping that maybe we could lure some Agency employees over here to anonymously comment here. Of course, it must be paramount that their identity will never be revealed. I fear that the Trump Forest Service will fail, miserably, in attempting to de-regulate everything. Remember, it took 4 years for the Bush Administration to amend the Sierra Nevada Framework Plan (which was also litigated).

  10. This isn’t a campaign any more; it’s governing. If a government agency does it (typically as a result of political meddling with science), it loses lawsuits. If a president does it, he can be impeached.

    • Jon

      Clinton was impeached, what good did it do, he was still president? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Impeachment_of_Bill_Clinton

      After Obama and Hillary and with both houses under republican control, what are the odds of a Trump Impeachment. Sure, if the taxpayers get upset enough and overwhelmingly vote in democrats in 2018 there might be a chance but even at that the best chance of booting Trump would be voting him out in 2020 and right now, I don’t think that that is going to happen.

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