Things seem a little quiet out there, so here is my response to Sharon’s asking what I think about “disappearing districts” on June 12. The problem I see with the approach of consolidating districts (and national forests) is that is an ad hoc and opportunistic response, and I haven’t seen much of an effort at long-term strategic planning for what the current and future agency should look like.
I think there are some good arguments for maintaining a local ‘face’ of the Forest Service responsible for implementing policies and programs. I think that could be done with many staff specialists located elsewhere and in different places. Something close to a “one person ranger district” might make sense again.
On the other hand, what purpose do national forest administrative units serve? There is a need for someone at a higher level and with a broader view to develop policies and programs. But is there really a need for a hundred-and-how-many different sets of policies? There is a historic and legislative basis for national forest boundaries, but I think that the decentralization of authority that has been tied to that works hard against the need to reduce government costs (as well as creating artificial cross-jurisdictional management problems).
I think that the Clinton Administration had the right idea that the Forest Service can’t afford four layers of bureaucracy. What would happen if we eliminated national forest supervisor offices? Or if that’s too many districts for a regional office to handle, a more reasonable alternative might be to reorganize based on states or multi-state units (like the BLM, which would make it easier to eventually merge with the BLM). This might even improve working relationships with the states.