Harnessing the Power of the Many: Is the Forest Service Effectively Using the Internet?

Last weekend, I was recreating with family and got quizzed on a specific hazard tree removal project. Why did they leave the slash? Couldn’t they cut it up for firewood? Don’t they know how bad it looks near a major trailhead?

I certainly don’t know what the answers were, though I had ideas. Then when I got home, I noticed this essay from Bob Berwyn about another project. This is definitely worth a read, as Bob writes about his observations and questions about this project and its design. It’s true that Bob knows more than an average passerby; but it seems like we should be encouraging public interest and questions as a learning experience- even an approach to science (or conservation) education.

It’s great that people are interested in projects, but I have to wonder if in this day and age we could have some simple “how this project was designed and why” that could be linked to Google Earth.

Like the trailheads are on the Fourteeners website here. In general, the Fourteeners website tells you everything you want to know about those trails. You can also scan the trip reports to find out the latest conditions.

I wonder what it would take to start something like this for FS recreation or all lands recreation? Just think- you could find out that campgrounds and dispersed sites were full without driving around. You could find out that the roads or trail is still closed with snow. We could harness the power of the people who are out there (many, many more people than employees) simply by providing a place for them to leave comments.

The Park Service has visitor observation of trail conditions for Rocky Mountain National Park, so it is possible for feds to do such things (although it is kludgier than 14ers.com, in my view).

What if the Forest Service could harness the power of the internet to 1) tell the story of our projects, 2) keep visitors apprised of recreation conditions, and 3) to do some kinds of monitoring (OHVs off trails, regeneration, ?).

Do people have examples of forests and districts who have done some creative work in this arena? Please share.

2 thoughts on “Harnessing the Power of the Many: Is the Forest Service Effectively Using the Internet?”

  1. Thanks for the link to my photo essay. You raise some really good points. I think the FS does a decent job of posting formal NEPA docs for projects, but that’s pretty dry stuff. They could, if they had the resources, go much farther, even using web cams to show progress on different projects, and geolocation tools to help place them for people.

  2. I like Bob’s stuff. Good pictures of recent clearcutting in Colorado. Love the red trees in the background. Perhaps the slash can be explained by the requirement to leave 10-15 tons/acre(off the top of my head I think) of woody debris for “nutrient recycling”. In the good ol days, they used to bulldoze the slash into piles and burn it-to both reduce fire hazard and to “scarify” the “seedbed” for the Lodgepole pine seeds to germinate in. That policy has since been revised. keep in mind that the slash you see will be rotten enough to kick apart in 10-15 years. It’s also a far cry from the 50-70 tons of deadfall that will be accumulating on the “red” hillsides in the background. How bout that for an irony-when they piled and burned to reduce fire hazard-people complained about nutrient recycling. When they leave slash for nutrients people complain about fire hazard.

    In light of the pine beetle salvage efforts-I challenge all to change the way they think about clearcutting. Consider the following statement: the only real difference between a wildfire and a clearcut is a clearcut has a heck of a lot LESS environmental impact. I’m not saying that wildfire is bad-I’m saying that if nature can recover from a wildfire-it sure as heck can recover from a clearacut. USFS best management practices(BMP) require that no more than 15% of the mineral soil will be exposed in a clearcut(skid trails, roads ect). If a high intensity wildfire blows through your looking at 100% bare mineral soil exposure. After the Yellowstone fire I saw erosion that would have made the cover of TIME magazine if a logger had done it. Suddenly sediment isn’t news. But no one prepares an EIS for a wildfire.

    There’s no way to get around the idea that a recent clearcut is gonna looked knocked around a bit. But you have to get your head around the alternative. The rutting road is unfortunate. But I’ve photographed some nice clearcuts that were “closed out” north of Frisco on Williams Fork where the temporary roads were “re-contoured”, ripped, barricaded and reseeded. In five years you won’t know they were there. In five years Bob’s clearcut will be “restocked” with young lodgepole 2-3 feet tall. Another requirement of the USFS.
    I so concur with your post that the USFS doesn’t do enough explaining “in laymans terms” about why and what they’re doing. To the extent that I wonder if they are bound by some public servant ethos that prevents them from advocating their own mission. A pictures worth a thousand words. I’ve read a hundred EIS’s, and they are dry. Seldom do they have pictures.
    Good post Bob. P.S. only 3%(thats three) of the forested acres on Bobs home forest, the White River, was logged in 50 years.


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