Kissing the Past Gently Good-bye


Yesterday I spent the day doing other things, so didn’t see Bob’s post on the Tinder Box book until last night.

We have posted on the book before (last October, even with a photo on the cover) with some interesting discussion here.

Here is a bit of my take and another side. But as folks can tell, it is kind of silly on the surface. I was in Region 5 before the Consent Decree and people were grumpy about “losing herbicides” and not having as much money as Region 6. They also didn’t understand how women in fire wouldn’t move down from Region 6 to take a downgrade! There was something very strange about the way it was (mis) managed in 5 compared to 6. But since the people running things at the time were not women, then it really couldn’t have been women’s fault. Similarly, the CD was only in Region 5, which is not equivalent to the Forest Service as a whole. Region 6, where I started, seemed to have an attitude “just get on with it, if we don’t do it on our own terms, we’ll do it on someone else’s.” Of course, they had more money.. and so on the conversation could go.

But I think Travis said something very pertinent in his comment here, and after all, as I understand it, Travis is one of the future generation:

I also liked that Travis quoted Faulkner “the past is not dead, it’s not even past”.

This is “a new century” for the Forest Service, as the blog title suggests. Misogynistic, spiteful, morally-wrong and legally-impossible arguments are not helpful in a debate about the direction of the agency in the 21st century.

I read that comment, and then saw the Mandela quote posted above.

What would it take for us to leave our past (timber wars in Oregon, diversity wars in California) behind and imagine a future as good as we could all mutually make it?

17 thoughts on “Kissing the Past Gently Good-bye”

  1. I agree Sharon; I found the Tinder Box and attendant review posted yesterday offensive to the many hard working dedicated men and women who are working now or have worked in the FS. Current collaborative efforts to work toward a shared future for national forest lands are yielding tangible results. Although conflict is inherent in the agency’s mission and multiple laws governing it, a lot of excellent work is still getting done on the ground under considerable financial constraints. We should take the time to celebrate our successes and not constantly bemoan the “loss of the good old days” which for many were not really that great:)

    All the best and keep up the good fight Sharon:)


  2. I feel Sharon and Terry provide good advise on this and similar matters. Having dealt with both the timber and Consent Decree, I agree we just have to do our best under those circumstances we cannot control. Our people have and still are hard working, dedicated folks who deserve a lot of credit. There were circumstances surrounding the management of the Consent Decree that most people do not know about. The R-5 management team was caught in a vise that had the Secy. of USDA and Justice actually working against us, demanding that we somehow avoid the decree while the courts were demanding that we comply. A long story that does not solve anything now. I will say that the women in R-5 were a good deal more collaborative than either Justice or USDA gives them credit for.

  3. Sharon and Terry: There was no intent on my part to be offensive or slanderous in this post — it had been getting recent email distribution, despite having been written last year, and I thought it better to see the light of day and get more public consideration than for any other purpose. I’m not sure what the motives of the author were, but my point was to bring this uncomfortable topic to the table and see how people reacted.

    My reasons for posting here are identical to the original reasons for the October posting of the Tinder Box — and if I’d remembered that post in the first place, I wouldn’t have bothered! The discussion at that time was probably similar to what I hoped for here. But without intending to be redundant.

    Santana and a number of other people are credited with saying that “those that can’t remember the past are doomed to repeat it.” The timber wars in Oregon are certainly not over, nor apparently have the lessons from the “diversity wars” in California been fully learned. There is still work to do, no matter how unpleasant.

    The review was written by a woman, so it didn’t strike me as particularly mysoginistic — more clearly against “political correctness” and using “feminism” as an attention-getter. That is, this piece struck me as being against the feminist movement rather than against females in general — and how that movement had a negative effect on USFS traditions and operations.

    Personally, I haven’t seen too many “successes” that the USFS should be celebrating the past few decades — and more like serious concerns that it is falling apart and failing in its mission. If there are broken or neglected problems with the foundation we are building the future on, isn’t it better to focus on those areas and get them fixed before moving on, rather than just look the other way and hope for the best? I think there are a few elephants in the room when I talk with a number of retired USFS employees, and this is one.

    I think it’s important to be practical and acknowledge problems that still need attention (e.g., other people wrote and distributed this for some reason), than take a Pollyanna approach and just dream of better days. Good planning requires good information — which also might contain bad or even sordid elements.

    • I like reflecting on the past, but the spirit of the article is not “what can we learn from the past?”

      That would invoke what Zane experienced and what I experienced, and what everyone else experienced, in a spirit of mutual learning.

      The spirit of the book seemed to be “everything is screwed up now and women are the reason.”

      For Gaia’s sake!

      • Sharon: I’ve never been a USFS employee and have actually done very little contract work on Forest Service lands in my life, so I might not be (“probably am not”) taking this as personally as those of you with direct ties and history to the Forest Service.

        Still, it was written by a woman and I did not get the message that she thinks women are bad or that they screwed up the Forest Service — my take was that she was blaming “political correctness” (a problem still very much with us today, in my opinion) as the problem in general — and the feminist political movement in particular. I’m not sure I agree with her on these points, but indications are that a lot of people do.

        Her language may have been purposefully strong or provocative in parts, but no more so than much of the stuff that has been posted here under my name, Matthew’s, or those of several other Commenters.

        Has “political correctness” been an actual problem with
        Forest Service operations and credibility? If so, has that problem been resolved? If not, then what IS the problem? And how should it best be addressed (or at least acknowledged)?

        Bill Atkinson wrote an article on this very issue over 20 years ago (“Silvicultural Correctness: The Politicization of Forest Science,” Western Wildlands, vol. 17, no. 4: 8-12), but his focus was on New Forestry, rather than Feminism. I have seen little progress in resolving this problem from that time until the present — and mostly because people seem to avoid the issue and just hope it fades away over time, or assume that it has.

        This is politics, not forestry or forest science. Has it been fixed? And has the USFS made positive strides as a result?

        • OK, I could do a line by line.. here’s one quote:

          Ironically, affirmative action made for a level of hostility toward female employees that did not exist before. Sensitivity training became standard

          That seems a questionable assertion, since before some kind of affirmative action there were no women to be hostile towards.

          But since you are a blog buddy, and you asked, let me tell you a bit of my experience.

          I was a ’75 graduate of UC Berkeley in Forestry. As I recall, there were 86 guys in my class and 8 women. I tried to get a job with the Forest Service but was told “they don’t hire women in California.” Was it true? I guess you’d have to look at the data from that period. However, I can safely say it was not an “equal treatment” attitude or even a “welcoming to future employees” attitude. If you asked the women who had the ovaries to actually go to work for the FS then, you would get an earful.

          So.. it’s safe to say there was no hostility… because there were no female employees in the professional series..

          Now there is still hostility, or I was still reading about incidents related to fire in southern California a couple of years before I retired. Hostility was/is real, and not related to affirmative action or any bungling of implementation of it. And not everyone was/is hostile, but some were/are.

          And the real heroes, in my mind, are those who reached out and gave a hand up to those who ended up, for whatever reasons, hired and treated them as trainable and valued. Some of those folks are readers of this blog.
          Props to them!

  4. Amen, Bob. We can’t ignore the problems of the past if we wish to improve the decisions of today and tomorrow.
    Much of the various discussion on this site seem to hinge on the weakness and failures of the agency with suggestions that it should be scrapped or the acres be turned over to the states or corporations…because “they” aren’t doing a good job.
    So trying to explain why the job isn’t being done (in some minds) often is based on things that happened in the past.
    So, enough already on past sins.
    Now we can get back to arguing the merits of thinning and burning our way out of this mess. Those are the ultimate answers, right?

    • Thanks, Ed: My point (and intent) exactly. It would be great if we really could concentrate on thinning or burning our way out of this mess, but the courts and regulatory agencies have formed a solid barrier against those options the past 25 years. There have been several wonderful solutions proposed for getting us out of this quagmire — both here and in other places — but no one has figured out a way to actually put boots on the ground in any meaningful way.

      I think we have a serious political problem that has resulted in unacceptable levels of damage to our nation’s forests, economy, and rural communities. Everyone seems to agree that Congressional action is needed at some level in order to get back to work — should this group include “political strategies” as a fundamental aspect of Planning for the 21st Century?

      • “but no one has figured out a way to actually put boots on the ground in any meaningful way.”

        I don’t think that is true, here in California, Bob. Other than the Pacific Rivers thing, which could still shut EVERYTHING down, our Forest has been doing nearly all the timber management we want. That doesn’t include salvage logging, of course. Yes, it would be nice to be able to cut trees larger than 30″ dbh but, it is a limit we can work with. Yes, we would like to do some very limited clearcutting, while still leaving “stuff” in the unit.

        The fear of “slippery slopes” and (80’s) “business as usual” just aren’t founded in truth, a full twenty years after our voluntary ban on clearcutting and highgrading. Some of the hindrances to us now are budgets, hiring practices and time. It takes a lot of time and labor to correctly mark small trees on 1000’s of acres. I really don’t think that the Forest Service’s use of temporaries for timber projects is “sustainable”. Until the Forest Service addresses these problems, they will be vulnerable to field-checking, which I, myself, welcome. The use of temps in other departments is also a liability in the same way.

        • Hmmm… no salvage, no trees larger than 30″, very limited clearcutting..

          That sounds like a decent zone of agreement, if forests could move forward.

          I wonder why that zone doesn’t work elsewhere? Who developed the zone? Are there no appeals and litigation of projects within the zone or are you (the FS) just generally victorious and look at it as part of doing business?

          What’s up with the “no salvage” thing, though? Trees are trees, live or dead, aren’t they?

          • When I said no salvage, I meant that we can’t salvage as much timber as we want, due to blanket litigation. The best we can do is to win in District Court and then do as much as we can before the Ninth Circuit Court slaps us down. I do expect some lawsuits on our collaborative project, although it really isn’t that much different than a regular thinning project, on the ground. Since both the QLG and the Sierra Nevada Framework aren’t heavy on “best available science”, they are vulnerable. Chad Hanson is still looking for ways to stop all timber sales, and the BBW is his vehicle. Yep, it’s all there on his website!

  5. “Kiss the past gently goodby.” What a pleasant and comforting thought. Move on and forget. “What’s in the past is over and done, what really counts is from now on”.
    The inquisition, the holocaust, Hiroshima – Hey man, they never happened and who cares if they did.

  6. I think the main point of this discussion is: How do we move forward (“plan for the future”) if we are stuck in the past? Or, as Sharon phrased it: “What would it take for us to leave our past (timber wars in Oregon, diversity wars in California) behind and imagine a future as good as we could all mutually make it?”

    Substantive Congressional action seems to be the most common denominator in many of the suggestions that have been discussed here, but there are no indications that anything significant is going to happen in that regard anytime soon — Wyden and DeFazio are largely responsible for getting us into this mess over the past few decades, and now they’re going to lead us out of it? I stopped holding my breath on that one 15 years ago. Probably not going to happen. Kind of like the Y2K debacle and “solution” in my book.

    I do think we can identify problems, though, that can be addressed at the local, state, and agency levels and that can bring some kind of resolution to these largely manufactured and self-inflicted difficulties. Whatever the demographic makeup and job titles used by the USFS during the past 30 years, here are some of the common denominators, with specific questions aimed toward better understanding and possible resolution, that seem to have gotten us to where we are today (and why it is hard to shift into a forward gear):

    USFS employs about the same number of people today as it did 30 years ago (I think I understood that right). Of this number, how many are permanent employees and how many are seasonal “temps?” How many (of each) work in the field and how many work in an office? Is this a balanced workforce? Are these numbers sustainable? Should they be?

    USFS timber sales are about 25% (maybe less) of what they were 30 years ago. How has this affected returns to the US Treasury and to the state treasuries in which the National Forests are contained? How have recreational opportunities, wildlife populations, and wildfire risk been affected by these changes? Should sales volumes be increased or further reduced? Should sales specifications be significantly modified?

    USFS lands have been experiencing the worst spate of catastrophic forest wildfires in history during the past 30 years. Global Warming has been a non-factor during that time, but some people continue to claim that it will only make matters worse in decades to come. Wildfires are not increasing on State and Tribal lands to this same degree, possibly excepting when affected by adjacency to federal lands. Should we just continue to allow federal lands to burn at these levels? Should any vegetation (“fuel”) management take place on public lands?

    USFWS is the defacto manager of USFS lands over the past 30 years they have designated as “critical habitat.” How has this affected USFS management costs, forest revenues, and wildfire risks? What is the scientific basis for these designations? Does the public support these results?

    So that’s four possible starting points, from my perspective, that can probably be resolved at some local, state, and/or agency level while Congress continues to piddle around on television and in the newspapers. Here’s where I miss the investigative journalism that we used to have 30 years ago — of course, now we have Internet and NEPA and a public commitment to “transparency.” Maybe that can help.

  7. Bob, these are great questions but I think that the framing is too contested for one investigative journalist to be able to parse out (even if those folks are still employed by newspapers or other media organizations).

    I think what you’re talking about is a process in environmental conflict resolution called “joint fact finding”

    a link.

    I did a project on it about wildfire and community protection with the University of Montana. I may be able to locate it..

    is one I found from USGS on spotted owls.

    I think such an approach would be great.. but requires funding.

    • Sharon: What I’m mostly talking about is common sense, cost effective resource management, based on the best information and greatest public acceptance as possible. It’s not necessarily a money problem:

      1) A critical examination of the current USFS bureaucracy should result in savings of tens of millions of dollars a year, for many of the reasons suggested and discussed in this blog. I’m guessing that fewer temps, more income-producing full-time field employees, and an elimination of duplication and inefficiency in the offices and courtrooms (“the committee industry”) would increase trust and greatly decrease overhead in National Forests management;

      2) A sharp increase in the harvesting of forest products via forest restoration, wildfire mitigation, and wildlife management projects should also result in similarly sharp increases to federal, state, and county incomes;

      3) Preventive wildfire strategies, routine salvage programs, and active fuel management of our nation’s forests should result in hundreds of millions in savings every year, as well as the potential for hundreds of millions in product income — and not to mention the hundreds of thousands of taxpaying jobs created through this process;

      4) A scientific examination of the methods used to identify and manage “critical habitats” that currently cost hundreds of millions of dollars a year in management costs and foregone incomes, could quite possibly result in billions of dollars of savings over the next few years — and unlikely to significantly increase current levels of cost;

      So I’m maybe in agreement with the established examples — but not at all if they result in an increased cost to taxpayers. There is no excuse for the money the USFS blows through wildfires and courtrooms every year; and no excuse for our nations’ forests not to pay their own way in local jobs and county revenues.

      (Actually, there’s lots of good excuses — and most of them coming from our elected officials and agency ologists. Just not any actual reasons.)

      Other opinions on this?

      • I didn’t mean that there wouldn’t be ultimate cost savings… I just meant that examining things costs money. What you are talking about is serious boat-rocking, which I agree needs to be done.

        My point was only that those with money and power to study and make changes .. the FS and Congress… do not seem to have done it so far. The FS might not like external looks into what it’s doing.

        So I think the best best would be to get a couple of studies inserted into bill language. I think some folks might be trying to get a study inserted into the Farm Bill, these also might be possibilities. Then there’s the question of who does them (not the FS) and how is the public involved. That’s what would be interesting about trying the Joint Fact Finding approach.


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