Professionals in Natural Resource Agencies: How’s Life Treating You?

Bruce Tremper conducts a field observation of a ski slope prior to composing his avalanche forecast. (Photo: Bruce Tremper/U.S. Forest Service Utah Avalanche Center)
Bruce Tremper conducts a field observation of a ski slope prior to composing his avalanche forecast.
(Photo: Bruce Tremper/U.S. Forest Service Utah Avalanche Center)
Normally I try not to mix Society of American Forester business with this blog, except for the fact that I learn things from that work I share here and vice versa. In this case, though, I’m interested in getting as broad a set of ideas and experiences and thoughts as possible, and I know that folks on this blog have such a variety.

So here it is. The SAF has a position statement that originated in the 90’s on “Professionalism in Public Natural Resource Management Agencies.” Here’s a link. It has a historic perspective that I think is out of date (like SES is here to stay). I’m wondering what folks think the issues around professionalism (and here I am thinking more broadly, planning, wildlife, hydrology) are in the natural resource agencies you all work for or deal with.

Since I retired, I have no idea what’s current. In the year before I left the Forest Service, I was told “work on the Committee on Forest Policy has nothing to do with your job” and “if you give a talk at a professional conference you must pay your own way, use leave, and even if you do that, you should really not go, because people don’t know who is funding you and might think you are violating USDA travel policy.” I was required to call the program folks at one conference and have them change my Forest Service affiliation on the program (yes, I was proud to give my affiliation instead as the administrator of this blog). Fortunately, the organizers were used to Dilbertian requests and didn’t bat an eye.

Hopefully, my experiences were a rare warp in the space-time professional continuum. I hope that FS folks are generally following the spirit of Chief Dombeck’s letter on professionalism, which has not been rescinded that I know of.

Anyway, I’m curious about what folks see the issues of today to be.

4 thoughts on “Professionals in Natural Resource Agencies: How’s Life Treating You?”

  1. Maybe the biologists are holed up in their offices. I say this because they make some extremely important decisions but it doesn’t seem like I ever see them.
    I would love to work for the Forest Service, I want to be district ranger in Powers, Oregon.
    But then I would probably get in trouble for not taking the small stuff seriously enough.
    But what a great job if you love the forests and being outside. In spite of trying to burn them up of the last 20 years, our National Forests are places of incredible beauty.

  2. Thanks for the link, it’s not very well written (grammar even) and like you say is perhaps somewhat out of date, on the other hand it looks like it’s about to expire this year. What I always wonder, is how long SAF is going to continue beating the dying horse of SAF accreditation (actually I’ve been wondering this for 37 years now, so I suppose it’s dying very slowly). For example, Tom Tidwell never graduated from a SAF-accredited school, and he’s now head of the whole USFS. His degree is in wildlife and range management (I don’t think he has any advanced degrees), which doesn’t seem inappropriate for his position. I myself graduated with a B.S.F. from a SAF-accredited forestry school, where I was never required to take even a single course related to wildlife. What’s up with that? I had courses in wood technology, forest mensuration, surveying etc. etc., which were fine classes but taught me little about forests as anything more than industrial tree farms. Maybe things have changed since then, but it seems like SAF’s continual banging of the accreditation drum is more a clinging to turf rather than a genuine drive for professionalism in our forests. Much like the ABA’s hold on attorney admissions, but that’s another story…

    • A correction: looking back, apparently Washington State University (Tidwell’s alma mater) did previously have a SAF accredited curriculum, which may or may not have included Tidwell’s major, so maybe he was a bad example. I think the general point still holds. Found this interesting link to a SAF powerpoint presentation, “Standing our Ground: the Meaning of SAF Accreditation” I like one of their self-evident conclusions: “Forestry is, by nature, a conservative profession”

  3. I feel your pain Sharon, having worked with dozens of USFS foresters and sale admins over 30 years harvesting timber. They were with only an exception or two entirely professional and great to work with.

    Sadly, obstructionist types like Koehler and Knudsen have neutered their ability to carry out forest management . If no management is the goal there is no reason to have these people on the payroll.

    If the USFS can’t do it’s job it should just admit it’s a fire fighting agency and get rid of all the peripheral positions. No need for ologists when no management will occur.


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