How Would You Decrease in the Forest Service Budget?


I wish we could say “enough” and turn budgeteering over to a panel of non-partisans if Congress and the President can’t come up with something by a certain date. It seems like it needs something more extreme than the culture of blame (actually I would give the panel a month, and not pay Congress nor the President and his direct advisors for that month.) I liked when the Colorado legislature dreamed up the Roadless Task Force. They selected a certain number of people from each house (party) and some people that both parties could agree on. Now assuming that the US Congress isn’t even more dysfunctional than I think, there would be people that both houses could agree on, and those people, perhaps as in Colorado, could have a unique role in bringing the more extreme partisans together.

Anyway, we are now paying probably tens of thousands of people to go through budget exercises of various kinds rather than doing actual work. Right now, agency folks are prone to “Washington Monumenting”. Yet, when I was working, I did notice areas that could be cut back on managed differently to save money (and I am not talking about travel). I was also intrigued by some of the comments by federal employees on some of the articles.. like rewarding people for giving money back rather than “year end spending” to prove you really needed the bucks.

I would be interested in what you all think. I’m not sure that there is another public forum for the FS to get suggestions on reducing the budget, so I don’t know if all the potential out there has been unleashed.

They could be big or small ideas, and each idea doesn’t have to add up to any particular percentage. It is also OK to think of changes that could be put in place over up to 5 years. Finally, I’d prefer we not be obvious, for example, some of us might want to get rid of fuels reduction programs, while others would want to get rid of administrative appeals. But it’s open.

My biggest long term one would be simply to move the Forest Service to Interior, and have a five year program of harmonizing regulations between the FS and BLM. I would put back the possibility of dual delgation, which was rather abruptly removed here in Colorado for no apparent reason (IMHO). Like I’ve said in the past, when I used to be in meetings about energy projects with wildlife, NEPA, minerals and planning people, one each from each agency, with DOI solicitors and USDA OGC, I just had to wonder whether there’s a less expensive way.

Here’s a link to the 2013 Budget Justification.

20 thoughts on “How Would You Decrease in the Forest Service Budget?”

  1. For one, the Forest Service is extremely top-heavy. Too many chiefs and not enough Indians. Cut loose a 12, an 11 and four 9’s and you can permanent hire the proper amount of quality people who actually do the fieldwork, on each Forest. Instead, it costs a surprising amount of money to train new temporaries every single season. Not to mention dealing with the mistakes they make along the way. I saw multiple crew members last year who marked rare Douglas-firs, thinking they were white firs. There are very few timbermarkers who have seen logging equipment at work, knowing their limitations.

    We could really do without those people in an oversight capacity, who never really go out in the field. Instead, they scan over the paperwork stuff, making sure it is properly aligned with the current Administration’s political preferences. Both sides do this, and we don’t need any more partisan politics in the Agency.

    • Larry, there are very useful things that can happen with higher grade levels, including more expertise. I’m sure there are jobs and tasks that could be gotten rid of..

      For example, when I worked in the WO, a region (rhymes with “fine”) decided to seriously downsize. A person who came to the same copy machine as I used to regularly complain that she ended up giving advice to the forests and districts instead (topic was special uses)- which didn’t get rid of the work, just shoved it out of the region. Lots of times a person on a district just doesn’t get enough business on a particular subject to become an expert.

      But one of the Forest Service culture’s least attractive qualities, in my view, is the cultural norm that says “every level above mine is pointless” or as I heard once “pointless, useless and worthless.” Not that people just think that, but also act that way and say it to the higher levels.
      To me, it interferes with acting like and being a real team.

      Second, I don’t think that many of those people are actually doing “oversight”. I think each program is different, but the same culture that says “districts are always right” says “we don’t need any oversight.”

      I used to say that I am willing to consider that this is the case, but to be honest we should just tell OMB that we don’t need any oversight, unlike other agencies. Not be in a weird love/hate relationship (IMHO) with the concept.

      Before I retired, I had the opportunity to co-lead a management review of a joint unit jointly with BLM. They were much more disciplined and serious about reviewing, in my observation.

      On another note, one of our supes used to say (repeatedly, to the point we were talking about scheduling it) they didn’t think it was appropriate for the RO to review units unless the units could also review the RO. I think the world of this supe, too.

      I am willing to consider that the region I worked in most recently was an outlier in this respect, though. I’d be interested in others’ observations on this topic.

      • Of course I wasn’t saying get rid of them all. Certainly, in my field of expertise, I do know that when conflicts arise in Timber Sale Administration, the “Forest Service Representative” has to step in and resolve the situation. If that doesn’t work, the Forest Contracting Officer comes next. I believe there is another person in the RO who gets involved if the problem needs “a bigger hammer”. These higher-ups are absolutely necessary.

        However, do we really need this kind of structure within the “ologists”? AND, how many of those GS-12’s in the SO’s and RO’s have their own staffs?? Really, I don’t think we need high ranking “ologists” at the Forest level. They don’t do very much fieldwork, leaving that to the local RD’s. Does a local RD Botanist need new direction from the Forest Botanist? Does the Forest Wildlife Biologist need to “re-invent the wheel” each year, regarding surveys?

        We need “boots on the ground”, instead of “behind the driver’s seat”.

      • I’m very happy that it appears the Forest Service has “seen the light” and stopped turning $3000 lightning fires into $30,000,000 firestorms. Again, Let-Burn was another example of the desire to have a pre-human landscape, in a human-occupied world.

      • Fire has the largest share of the FS budget pie. And they have expanded over the past 20 years, while most other areas have seen decreases. So it is an area that i would look to to find budget cuts. An example is the size of the fire engines has increased to point that they are huge. In fact the size is so large now that fire needs to increase the height of the doors to the engine bays so they can park them inside.

  2. I would fire most of the lawyers and replace them with field foresters. I would reduce the USFS legal budget by 80% and use the money to hire full-time tree markers in every forested district, as Larry describes. More savings by reducing a secretive, ineffective, top-heavy bureaucracy, as Larry also describes, could be used to more effectively manage wildfires.

    The charge of the tree markers would be to immediately begin laying out landscape-scale forest restoration and wildfire mitigation projects, as described in existing law. Landscape-scale would mean 5,000 to 500,000 acres in size. Projects would be designed to at least break-even commercially — like USFS map sales are. Maybe some projects in Oregon would have to balance some projects in Texas, but there should be no additional costs to treasury. And if done efficiently, there should even be a good return most years.

    Congress would have to be involved: first, to see that forest restoration targets were being met, and second, to make sure that foresters weren’t being hindered by unnecessary litigation. All suits brought against the government for ESA regulations, as an example, may need to be suspended for 10 or 15 years; or maybe the burden of filing suit needs to be more rigorous — say, dependent on significant scientific evidence rather than regulatory language interpretation and legal precedent regarding such language, as now exists. A lawyer could probably word that better, and there’d still be 20% of the legal budget to pay for such advice. Probably an English teacher could do better, and probably cheaper, too.

    Work could start tomorrow, if Congress wanted it to.

      • Not repeal, necessarily, Travis: maybe just a 10 year suspension on litigation attached to them. Yeah, I know — it would require a majority of Congress to have some basic common sense and at least as much backbone as a lamprey. Probably would take a lot more than just luck to fix those problems.

  3. Moving the FS to Interior makes a lot of sense. The FS already receives its funding the the Interior appropriations committee/bill. Of course, moving the FS to another department would require a lot of legislative and administrative work, and I doubt it will happen anytime soon.

  4. At one time, back in the really old days,the idea of moving the FS to Inerior would send FS people into hissy fits. However, I suspect many people in the outfit and many retirees would see it as a decent idea, and yes, in my opinion themove could hve the potential of saving some taxpayer dollars.

    As I udnerstand the situation today, USDA people would like the FS to operate just like other Ag programs and are not willing to concede the FS is suppose to be int he land management business not program administration.

    Another suggestion for discussion is one that has been discussed from time to time,eliminate regional offices as they are currently structured and replace with several “Chief’s Represetatives” to handle necessary contacts with the various governors.

  5. John, it’s interesting that you say that things have changed.. I think ideas like “Interchange” (remember that? I worked on the Fremont then) had trouble because people don’t like to change the folks managing the land. That’s why I think dual delegation (FS and BLM) was successful (in my opinion) was the agencies were integrated but each had its own face.

    Just moving the FS to Interior and then trying to harmonize appropriate regulations across agencies (say, FOIA, if we had a joint project we used to have to follow two sets of FOIA regulations) wouldn’t threaten the public necessarily. We have some really smart people on both sides who have been working together for years, and we could use their knowledge to make the transition as smooth as possible.

    As to regional offices, I think BLM is on to something with state offices. Everyone knows what State you’re in. By the time you try to figure out EPA, FWS and Forest Service regions it’s a coordination nightmare. FS and BLM could share expertise at the state offices (similar to the ways the San Juan and San Luis Valley Public Land Centers shared expertise.)

    And again, in my opinion, if we are to have fire resilient landscapes the feds have to work tighter with states and local governments. One tiny example, we also did a joint forest plan with BLM and part of their deal is to have the state review it. The State reviewed a draft (Harris Sherman, that time Director of DNR for Colorado) and it seemed very good and enlightening for both sides to do that … why wouldn’t you want to coordinate with the State so they know what you are doing and give their opinion(s)?


  6. So does anybody have any good idea yet of how sequestration is going to affect the Forest Service? Anybody seen a good analytical news story? Has the FS released any info on this yet?

  7. Bob, this previous link
    is as close as I’ve found. Perhaps you could call the national press office or Ms. Chan to see if there’s more information..

    The Courier was directed to a D.C. spokesperson for the USDA who didn’t have answers to questions Wednesday about whether the Prescott National Forest is able to continue hiring seasonal employees, or even how many seasonals the forest planned to hire. The spokesperson, USDA Deputy Press Secretary Stephanie Chan, did send Vilsack’s letter.

  8. I looked around on the USDA website and the news articles but couldn’t find one.. please post if you find a link. I got the feeling that it might be the same letter that talks about all USDA programs.


    • It is the same letter; Stephanie Chan just sent me a copy. I’ll post it on Scribd and post a link here. I tried to contact the WRNF and they referred me to USDA. Here are some of the questions I asked her:

      “Hi Stephanie, thanks for getting back to me so quickly. I did see some coverage of Sec. Vilsack’s letter but I appreciate being able to read the full letter.

      Just to be clear, I would really like to speak with staff at the White River National Forest about how they’re approaching this situation. Is it possible for me to do that? If not, why?

      Obviously, local stakeholders, including ski resorts, forest visitors and others are interested in knowing how this might affect their ability to use national forests.

      So, as a followup, when can we expect more detailed local information? What’s the timeline for making decisions on staffing and facilities? What’s the communication plan/timeline for letting people know what the local impacts might be?

      Thanks again for responding to my inquiry so promptly.”


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