Idea for Congress: Give Forest Service Flexibility

Two articles of interest this morning.. reductions in firefighter hires due to sequestration.. as in the LA Times story here

Here is an excerpt:

The U.S. Forest Service will hire 500 fewer firefighters this year, the result of “line by line” budget reductions required by Congress, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a conference call with reporters. The reduced staffing also means 50 fewer fire engines will be available, Vilsack said.

Vilsack and Interior Secretary Sally Jewel said much of the West would face severe fire danger this summer.

“We will no doubt be seeing some fires of significant size,” Vilsack said.

The Interior Department is also expected to cut its firefighting forces.

The Forest Service hires firefighters in spring and retains them through fall, Tom Harbour, the Forest Service’s national director of fire and aviation management, said in an interview Monday. Last year, when 9.3 million acres burned in the United States, the Forest Service hired 10,500 firefighters. The Interior Department fielded another 2,500.

California is expected to be the most imperiled of the dry Western states. The state this year has received only 25% of the rainfall that it received in the same period for 2012, National Interagency Fire Center fire analyst Jeremy Sullens said. Other states expected to be hit hard are Arizona, New Mexico, Oregon and Idaho, along with portions of other states.

Because of the danger California is in, the Forest Service does not plan to reduce hiring there, Harbour said. The reductions will more likely affect Eastern states, where the danger is less serious this year.

I also saw this here:

The U.S. Forest Service is awarding $772,820 to help national forests improve or implement conservation education programs for kids in 16 states and the U.S. Virgin Islands. This award is part of the more than $2.26 million dedicated to connecting American kids to Nature. It includes more than $1.49 million in partner contributions, according to a spokesperson for the Forest Service.

“Forest Service conservation education programs inspire young people to start exploring the natural world around them, which develops a life-long appreciation for the environment,” said U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell. “Our partnerships help ensure that we bring the great outdoors to children, whether in an urban or rural setting.”

Remember, the same Forest Service had to ask for money back from States (asked for money back) but is also giving out new grants…

It seems to me that if Congress would let USDA/FS switch among line items.. then we could apply my bureacratic prioritization process, or some other rational process that could be explained to the public.

1. Real danger to people, fish, soil, air, tourism, water storage, and properties. Fires yes, lack of conservation education, not.

2. Critical as to timing– fires this year, either there is real danger of bad fires this year or it’s fire hype.. someone in government should be able to tell the difference. Not so timing-critical is conservation education.

3. Across the government, how many uncoordinated efforts are there? Just in my everyday dealings before I retired, I ran across the National Park Service, NSF and EPA having some form of conservation education. Maybe Congress could ask for volunteers (retirees) from all these agencies (and the others no doubt) to review the different programs (I’m sure other agencies do it as well) and make recommendations for combinations and coordination. They might even be “educating” at cross purposes.

Just to be clear, I have nothing against conservation education, it is a great and important program. I do have something against apparent inability to prioritize and coordinate among federal agencies. And if it would take some freeing action by Congress to allow agencies to do it, then let’s ask Congress to do it.

What are your thoughts? How would you prioritize?

5 thoughts on “Idea for Congress: Give Forest Service Flexibility”

  1. 1) With regard to the examples you cite, it’s important to acknowledge that the irrationality _IS_ the will of Congress, expressed as the deadlock of dysfunctionality known as the sequester.

    2) What I would prioritize would be a national climate mitigation plan, quantitively calibrated, and implementation thereof. Without getting a grip on climate change, the impacts of global warming and regional drying will swamp any amount of fire fighting or fire-reduction forest management.

    We probably only have a couple of more years to keep screwing around, before business-as-usual puts climate stabilization out of reach. (400ppm milestone noted.)

    “The Climate in Eugene” (newsletter article)

    • Kevin, one problem with the national plan is that other countries might not go along with it. What we need, in my opinion, is cheap- low carbon energy sources that everyone will prefer without requiring complicated rules and enforcement. Solar may be getting there even while we talk about this..

      I hope you don’t actually believe in that “milestone.” We don’t know enough about all this to know.. One of the best descriptions of the natural world and how humans put points on a continuous distribution comes from a book on a very different topic…

      It’s a book called “the Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression” by Andrew Solomon (highly recommended if you are interested).

      from page 27..

      “but the cutoff point remains arbitrary. We have decided that an IQ of 69 constitutes retardation, but someone with an IQ of 72 is not in great shape, and someone with an IQ of 65 can still kind of manage; we have said that cholesterol should be kept under 220, but if you cholesterol is 221, you probably won’t die from it , and if it’s 219 you need to be careful: 69 and 220 are arbitrary numbers, and what we call illness is also really quite arbitrary; in the case of depression, it is also in perpetual flux.”

      I’m not saying it’s good; I’d like to cut CO2 as much as the next person, but I am both pragmatic and want people to have energy.

      Here’s a link to some climate pragmatism thinking..

  2. Those who seem to believe in Goresian “climate change” also seem to prefer forest preservationism, despite the wealth of current impacts and actual conditions. I think it would be good to stay away from “faith-based” policies in impacted forests.

    • “Those who seem to believe in Goresian “climate change.”

      In order words, 97% of climate scientists, and of those who “believe in” science.

      • I’m not debating “climate change”. It changes all the time. I was just making an observation about the conflict in their beliefs. Fretting about climate change impacts on forests while advocating doing nothing is, as Spock would say, “not logical”.


Leave a Comment