You’ve Got To Have Friends

Dave Iverson, in responding to Sharon’s post The Ranchers and the Feds Should Be Friends said that:

“. . . the Forest Service has no business courting friendship.

The folks involved with the many “friends of” groups associated with a number of national forests might disagree.


A few years ago, I was fortunate to spend a week learning from the late Brian O’Neil, long-time superintendent of the Golden Gate NRA. Brian’s philosophy was never to do a job with government employees if a volunteer would do it instead. According to the NRA’s webpage,” Park staffing is augmented by a high level of volunteerism, generally exceeding 350,000 hours of volunteer service per year.

The friends group that Brian cultivated, the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy says its mission is “to preserve the Golden Gate National Parks, enhance the park visitor experience, and build a community dedicated to conserving the parks for the future.” Sounds pretty consistent with the best interests of the park and the people it serves.

Brian’s called his version of fund-raising “friend-raising.”  He never called it fund-raising, even though the Conservancy has contributed over $165 million dollars in support of the park.   He thought of it a long-term process where people first become aware of the NRA, then come to know it, come to care about it, and finally to support it through time, money, and advocacy.

[Interesting digression:  the GGNRA is currently using a negotiated rule-making process with an appointed committee to  to decide how best to manage dog walking in the park.]


The national forest in California that best exemplifies the friend-raising philosophy is the San Bernardino.  Their main partner group, The San Bernardino National Forest Association describes its mission as follows: “Since 1992, we’ve worked to complement the mission of the US Forest Service. We develop new resources and partnerships that create new opportunities, particularly through the efforts of volunteers, for conservation, education, and recreation that have added value to the forest’s role as public land.”

In light of all of the many “enemies of the national forests” who see public lands only as a source of profit that they would like a piece of, shouldn’t all national forests be actively trying to make more friends?  Have we already forgotten the Sagebrush Rebellion attempts to privatize national forests?

And what is the deep inner meaning of the title of this post?  Just ask Bete Midler:

“Cause you got to have friends
La la la la la la la la la

9 thoughts on “You’ve Got To Have Friends”

  1. Jim,

    You quoted me out of context. Here is what I said:

    No. Not “friends”. The article title asked for the Feds and the ranchers to find common ground, amid all the competing demands for use of the national forests. On that I agree. But the Forest Service has no business courting friendship. As a government agency, the Forest Service has interest helping various interests work out their best uses of lands made available for public use by the Congress, while simultaneously balancing use, with conservation, and preservation. Forest Service employees have a responsibility to conduct the “business” of government in a courteous way — and for the most part they do an admirable job of that, despite increasing acrimony in American politics.

    I stand by what I wrote.

  2. The San Berdoo needs all the good PR they can get. With the LA Times blasting everything the Forest Service does, the people need to know that the San Bernardino NF has been very active in dealing with the many millions of dead trees within their boundaries. The nearest mill is 5-8 hours away, one way. There hasn’t been a local mill since the 80’s. I tend to think that their fuels work over the last 10 years has led to them not having a mess like the Station Fire, over on the Angeles, where fuels work has been lacking since they jettisoned their timber folks.

    I agree with Dave, regarding purchaser relations. I’ve dealt with dozens of purchaser’s reps and all those logging folks. I’ve always felt I needed to keep a buffer of professionalism and detachment from the loggers. One cannot allow even the appearance of collusion or corruption, because it could really bite you in the butt, down the road. Not that I didn’t have my chances at “quid pro quo”. As a temporary, I could have made deals with loggers to get more volume, had I sought such a thing. Even as a longterm temp, bitter as I was with the Forest Service, I felt it was important to keep the moral high ground.

    Friendly, yes…. Friends, no.

  3. Dave,

    I should have included your whole quote to make your context clear.

    I don’t see anything wrong with being friends with people who care about the national forests. That could include ranchers willing to commit to grazing strategies that mimic wild herbivores where that is appropriate, loggers that don’t mind cutting small diameter trees to alter stand structure for any number of reasons, or OHV users that chip in to maintain trails and self-police use.

    That’s different from being beholden to or in the pocket of special interests, particularly the ones that some Forest Service employees seem to turn up employed by after they retire. (My words, not yours.)

    Government agencies as well as special interest groups are just an assemblage of people. When people spend time together (collaborate?) in genuine conversations about the things they care about such as national forests, they learn to respect each other at the very least and perhaps actually become friends.

    • Jim,

      I have no problem with people who “learn to respect each other at the very least and perhaps actually become friends.” But that is a very different thing than ” The Ranchers and The Feds [acting as feds] Should be Friends.” Semantics! Yes, in part. Important that we write clearly? Yes!

      Someone once advised, “Write so that you cannot be misunderstood.” It proves hard, but we all need to try a bit harder to follow that advice. Blog posting is particularly hard, since it is done “on the fly.” Still, when we screw up we need to be called on our screw-ups.

  4. Dave,

    Maybe I misunderstood you, or you misunderstood me, or perhaps we just disagree on this point.

    Let me try to be clear. I think that it is a good thing for humans acting as Feds and representing the interests of the US Government and answering to the citizens of the US to find ways to be friends with humans who are ranchers who have their own interests. Being friends doesn’t have to preclude doing one’s job or being self-interested. It is a natural result of treating each other with respect, recognizing a diversity of views and engaging in a process of genuine collaboration.

    I also think that it’s possible for the Forest Service as an agency, not just individual employees, to have “friends.” The National Wild Turkey Federation, for example, contributes many dollars and lots of time towards projects that improve national forest lands. It doesn’t hesitate to lobby actively (in ways that the agency can’t) regarding issues that affect the national forests. Of course, this agency friendship was the result of personal relationships and dare I say, friendships.

    When a grazing association actively lobbies to return national grasslands to private ownership however, it is not the Forest Service’s friend. The Bismark Tribune article said: “It’s in the state’s best interests for ranchers and the Forest Service to develop a plausible working relationship based on mutual respect.”

    Would it be so terrible if that led to “friendship?”

    And if you never need any help with this difficult blog stuff, just let me know and I’ll be sure to point out when you screw-up. Of course, one hard thing about blogging is that it’s sometimes tough to tell when words are intended to be tongue-in-check (like the preceding sentence.)

    I actually think that thoughtful blogging is a lot less “on the fly” than face-to-face conversation that occurs without the benefit of editing. Not to say that all blogging is thoughtful. It does get captured for all to see though, and reread and debate ad nauseum.

    I’m glad to see you posting here more often. It improves the ratio of “thoughtful” to “on-the-fly” postings.

  5. Jim,

    Funny that you should cite the National Wild Turkey Federation. Its close “friendship” with the Forest Service led the Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area to violate the 1897 Organic Act by vesting in NWTF the legal responsibility of issuing special-use permits to farmers. That’s what “friends” do.

    But I’m less concerned about the Forest Service’s perspective of who is a friend and who is not (e.g., EarthFirst!, Center for Biological Diversity, the 20 plaintiff groups in the spotted owl litigation). It’s when the FS anoints a special interest as a “customer” that I worry most.

    • Andy,

      I had heard of but was not really familiar with this case so thanks for pointing it out. LBL feels that it has a charter to test the limits of legal authorities,and as you know, sometimes in ways not to everybody’s liking. The Stewardship Act, just as all laws,is subject to interpretation and it takes court decisions such as this one to establish those interpretations in case law.

      I believe that stewardship contracting holds great promise for getting good work accomplished on national forests. Clearly there are potential pitfalls as this case reveals. It hasn’t quite lived up to its initial promise of getting communities involved in designing, implementing, and monitoring projects that improve forests and benefit those communities. There has been a lot of internal and external resistance to this new way of doing business. I’m guessing that NWTF may be less of a booster in the future after having this “interpretation” to deal with.

      Are you viewing NWTF as a “customer” in this case? It looks more like a partnership to me. Although “friend” may be too much to hope for, it is essential for the Forest Service to find common ground with groups such as Earthfirst and the Center for Biological Diversity as well as the NWTF. If it can’t, there’s not much chance that a new planning rule will ever get implemented.

      • My remark about Forest Service “customers” was not about NWTF — its clearly a cooperator on the FS’s ledger.

        Back in the day (circa early 1980s), when I moved from timber to environmental advocate (the grass was greener on the other side), my relationship with the Forest Service changed overnight. I no longer represented the agency’s customers, but its avowed enemies.

        I was still the same guy (intemperate, outspoken, etc.), but even FS employees who had known me for years treated me differently in my new role. No longer did I enjoy cozy access to FS decisionmakers and senior staff.

        Today the “in” groups — the FS’s friends — are those who can bring money to the table (Nature Conservancy); those whose interests complement early seral vegetation (National Wild Turkey Federation, North American Elk Foundation); and, more recently, those who are willing to collaborate with the Forest Service’s agenda, e.g., help get restoration funding from Congress.

  6. I know this is swerving a bit off topic. Dave wrote:

    Dave Iverson :
    Forest Service employees have a responsibility to conduct the “business” of government in a courteous way — and for the most part they do an admirable job of that, despite increasing acrimony in American politics.

    Agreed. As a motorized rec advocate I criticize the USFS quite a lot. But in my “day to day” experience I find the vast majority of the employees are courteous and professional.


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