Forest Service Gets to Keep Pine Tree Logo, But Controversy Points to Larger Problem: By Char Miller

forest-service-usda-logosI, too, think there’s something creepy about the way this was handled (as well as other actions of the USDA vis a vis FS employees and citizens).

Here’s a link and below is an excerpt.

Yet so reluctant was USDA leadership to admit defeat at the hands of the Old Smokeys — the thousands of Forest Service retirees who wrote impassioned emails and letters to the secretary and his minions challenging the department’s action; so cornered were they by the onslaught of negative public opinion, that they would not allow Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell to make the announcement directly to his 30,000 employees and would not identify a particular person with the 13 words exempting the agency from the rebranding effort.

How apt that the department set its notice in the passive voice. By doing so it took no responsibility for its actions, an adept evasion that Czarist Russia’s faceless bureaucrats routinely practiced and which Fyodor Dostoyevsky took such dark pleasure in pillorying.
Although there is no crime in being thoughtless (or evasive), the punishment in this case was meted out by those who once had worked within the system and now fought against its mindlessness. All credit for preserving the pine-tree logo goes to the agency retirees, the large number of FSx who remain committed to resolving some of the vital challenges confronting the 193 million acres of national forests their former employer stewards.

As I wrote in my column last week, they swiftly responded to what they interpreted as an attack on the Forest Service’s legacy, and on the honorable work and years of devoted service that they had given to the agency, the Department of Agriculture, and by extension the American public.
By leaping into the fray, they turned back Secretary Vilsack’s ill-conceived and ill-considered rebranding campaign. Their quick reactions also testify to the inescapable value of an engaged citizenry to a democratic society.

Smokeys..arise! You have nothing to lose but your non-confrontational style and cultural disinclination for conflict!

8 thoughts on “Forest Service Gets to Keep Pine Tree Logo, But Controversy Points to Larger Problem: By Char Miller”

  1. As a Forest Service retiree, I appreciated Char’s comments, and I would also like to tell him many of the retirees are hard at work trying to help the national forests and the Forest Service. However, most of the work does no attract much media attention.

    One of our major concerns is the politcal gagging of FS people’s ability to openly discuss mangement and resource issues. I see more and more hesitation by field people to talk aobut issues for the public record, and most of these discussions are not about earth shakng policy issues, but routine work-a-day subjects. Jack Ward Thomas, former Chief, said, “Obey the law and tell the truth”, both seem to be getting harder and harder for FS people to do.I don’t know the penalty for violating the gag might be, but I get the impression it isn’t a pleasant experience.

    I think the shield issue illustrated the short leash the employees are on. The new “branding thing had been around since January, but had to leak out. Nobody, once it was public, could talk about it except a few people in the Department. Then when on of the few in the know people was contacted by a retiree, this individual was told he had the wrong information even though he had a copy of the new directive in front of him. And of course the FS people, as Char pointed out were gagged.

    I have to wonder if the Department has heard the Adminsitration’s direction for transparency and openness.

  2. Thanks, John, I agree with your last statement.. maybe Smokeys could write a letter to the President asking the same question.

    I was called on the carpet for starting/running this blog and it wasn’t a pleasant experience, mostly due to the lack of directness and generalized sneakiness, IMHO. Made me hanker for a loud, bad-language laced phone call from their predecessors; thought that hankering would never happen.

    Also, all, I edited the title to make it clearer that Char Miller is not the problem, he was writing about it, by adding “by” ;).

  3. As a retired U.S. Navy intelligence officer, I fully understand and support the protection of classified information in the interest of national security.

    As a former U.S. Forest Service person, I resent arbitrary gag orders of the type my friend and colleague John Marker mentions as an abridgement of the First Amendment right to freedom of speech–an abridgement that directly limits a citizen’s exercise of his or her responsibility to and within a participatory democracy.

    • Les, I think it’s more complex because they are employees and should more or less be giving the corporate story..when speaking for the agency..

      But I think that when the exercise of “control of content” keeps employees from communicating with the public, it’s gone way past acceptable, in my view, especially from an administration which prides itself on openness and transparency.

  4. Disgusting to see what politics has done to the good ole’ USFS. I once thought that only the Reaganites were guilty of twisting our once-great agency into a political tool, but alas, they only opened the door for ALL subsequent administrations, GOP and Demos alike, to wield the puppet strings as they wished. Regardless of the impact on the forests or the once-dedicated pros who tried to do the right thing.
    I guess once that nasty political door is kicked open, it never closes.

  5. Ed, I think the term “politics” can mean many things with regard to the FS and it probably worth discussing in some depth. Who knows, the next undersecretary or secretary or policy advisor to the secretary could be reading this blog…

    Certainly “elections have consequences” as the 10th circuit judge says..and elections mean that the chairs outside the secretary’s office are filled with one kind of buddies or another.

    I’ll start another post on that topic..

  6. Sharon, of course it’s “more complex” and I completely agree with the concept of agency loyalty and with telling “the corporate story” as the forest officer’s responsibility. Part of the complexity, when push comes to shove, is agency and individual loyalty to and responsibility for the truth respectfully told to a public increasingly skeptical of “government” in general. Honestly admitting a “goof up” gains more credibility than being percieved as part of a cover-up. I don’t thlnk we are at odds on this.

    • Yes, we are in agreement.. I just wanted to be clearer that if you’re an employee, saying what the agency wants you to say is fine.. it’s just different now that folks are not really allowed to (give the party line), compared to experiences with prior administrations.

      for the public I think it’s better to get lots of information, some of it wrong (the usual approach) than only a smidgin of information that is “right”. It feels like secrecy.. it is secrecy, and seems to be against everything the Administration stands for, in terms of transparency.

      As Emerson said “What you are stands over you the while, and thunders so that I cannot hear what you say to the contrary..”


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