USFS plans ‘very unusual’ staff shuffle – Alaska to S.D.

From Greenwire:

Agency plans ‘very unusual’ staff shuffle

Forest Service employees who expected to work on one of the biggest recent timber projects in Alaska have been told to pack for South Dakota instead, once travel restrictions tied to the coronavirus ease.

About a dozen employees in the Tongass National Forest — including foresters, engineers and wildlife biologists — have been told they’ll be transferred temporarily to a forest management project in the Black Hills National Forest, said Ken Dinsmore, president of Local 251 of the National Federation of Federal Employees, representing Tongass employees.

While employees understand they can be transferred to other areas at the discretion of the Forest Service — as with other federal agencies — the move is unusual, Dinsmore said. It came suddenly, and workers were told clearly that they don’t have the option to decline.

“Management has the right to assign work. That can include work from Fairbanks to Florida,” Dinsmore said. “This is very unusual. It’s the first time I’ve seen employees told to go outside the region to do their daily work.”

Employees were told to prepare to stay in South Dakota until August, he said.

The sudden announcement seems to coincide with the holdup of the Prince of Wales landscape level analysis project in the 17-million-acre Tongass National Forest, the biggest national forest in the nation. That project, which also includes stream restoration and improvements to recreation areas, involves up to 125,529 acres of potential timber harvest, according to the Forest Service.



12 thoughts on “USFS plans ‘very unusual’ staff shuffle – Alaska to S.D.”

  1. It is very unusual for people who work on timber sales, but not so unusual for people who work in Fire to be told to go outside the Region. People get detailed for work that needs to be done when there aren’t enough people locally, or they need specific expertise, but usually (I think almost always) you have to apply and want to go.

    That’s one of the reasons Forests do lots of little projects instead of larger projects.. there is always something for everyone to work on, and the loss of one or a small number of projects minimizes disruption. But then the FS is criticized (often by the litigants) for not analyzing and working at the landscape scale…

    • I’ve worked alongside many out of State or out of Region guys on salvage projects. They were detailed in. When I was in TEAMS Enterprise, I had cruising certifications in three different Regions. I also did stand exams in different Regions, too. Dredging up that old Dendrology brain sludge was quite a challenge.

    • Making a single decision for an entire landscape is a step well beyond “analyzing and working at the landscape scale.” In the Interior Columbia Basin Ecosystem Management Project, the mantra was “always analyze a scale above the scale of a decision.”

      I agree the bigger the project the harder they fall. They bet the house here and lost. And they’ve got the same tactical error going in many other places.

      • Jon, I’m not sure that it’s an error, before I retired large-landscape NEPA was being pushed by CEQ, as I recall. I think there was a national effort going on with learning networks and so on. Can’t remember the name of the effort, though, I do remember phone calls with CEQ.

        • This is from 2011 about 4FRI (by our old friend Bob). This is different from what the Tongass did because it would provide the necessary site-specific information (for many sites). It would streamline, but not eliminate, site-specific NEPA. (I’m not sure if this is what happened or how it played out.)
          “By conducting landscape-scale environmental analyses, 4FRI hopes to gain efficiencies by eliminating redundant NEPA processes and documentation. For example, the 4FRI stakeholder developed landscape strategy sets the stage for conducting multiple site-specific environmental analyses across 4FRI’s 2.4 million acres. This novel, landscape-scale approach to NEPA planning negates the need to conduct the estimated 20 to 50 individual NEPA analyses that the Forest Service would typically complete for such an area. Site-specific planning at 4FRI’s scales, however, would not be possible without the efficiencies gained through the use of cutting edge Forest Service and stakeholder technology that provides for site-specific analyses at unprecedented scales.”

          • Jon, I can’t remember the name of the landscape NEPA initiative, but I specifically remember a phone call with the Obama CEQ where EPA raised some concerns about the lack of site-specificity of the Black Hills bug project and CEQ told EPA that it was fine to do it that way.

            My take home from that experience (to the tune of CEQ talking to EPA) was that if you have a strong political push and attention, forests could get it done. But I didn’t think without that kind of high level support, forests could easily do it. And I think part of the point with the bugs in the Black Hills was that you couldn’t predict in advance which sites would have dead trees.

  2. Directed reassignments in the FS, whether of a temporary or permanent nature, even if they are voluntary rather than not, still have a great effect on employees and their families. Through the years, the FS has used this method more than you might think for a lot of reasons. Personally, from a coastal Forest in Oregon supervised by Jim Furnish (enlightened, empowering leadership) to a Forest in Northern New Mexico where it seemed like, at least at first, I was living in a third world country. I did this voluntarily after experiencing my Forest’s annual several hundred million board feet timber harvest program dwindle to almost nothing within two years because of the Northern Spotted Owl Recovery Plan , which I was detailed to work on. Rather than being reassigned to timber programs in Alaska or Idaho I chose to go to the Southwest to work on the Mexican Spotted Owl Recovery Program.

  3. This isn’t unprecedented. When marbled murrelets were listed under the ESA, a lot of FS employees were sent over to eastern Oregon for several months in the late 1990s to prepare salvage sales due to the “forest health crisis” occurring in the Blue Mountains at that time. And, during the economic downturn in the early 1980s when timber purchasers had speculated on timber sales and then the prices did not ever reach a level where they could make a reasonable profit, millions of MBF were “bought back” by the Forest Service, and many people who work in presale were sent to other forests to work on their timber sales.

    • This seems like an odd story… et tu, Alaska Public Media?

      Sending timber and wildlife people who are used to planning timber sales, to protect an area from fireworks? It seems like there must be a point system for journalistic attempts to tie things to Trump or to climate change.

      This quote from Andy Stahl makes sense “there’s a lot of other work the Southeast Alaska-based biologists, surveyors and other ground crews could be doing locally such as improving watersheds rehabilitate salmon fisheries.

      “The Tongass still has a legacy of fish blocking culverts on its logging roads that need to be fixed, they need to be removed,” he said. “And these employees could be working on that and some of them are.”

      Maybe that’s why the folks they are supposed to be sending are wildlife and timber and not fisheries nor watershed?


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