FS Stories: Background on the Forest Service Folktales Project

This is from a video by Tom Peters on excellence in the public sector. The Forest is the Ochoco, the person with his back to us is my former boss, Chuck Downen, Chief Robertson, and, if I had to guess, the person to the right would be Joe Meade. Here’s the link to the video. The FS comes in about 3:30.

One of my most fun times in the Forest Service was working on the Ochoco Pilot in the 80’s. My team recommended that the FS be able to write checks. It was a novel idea at the time (I am not making this up). Anyway, the quote from Tom Peters in my email below reminded me.

I was about to post a story this morning and realized that the author’s introduction would make more sense if the reader understood my original Folktales request.
Due to the wonders of the Internet, I was able to access Dave Iverson’s Ecowatch blog and found my original request.

TO: Everyone
WANTED: Stories That Depict Aspects of Forest Service Culture and Values
WHY: For a book about the culture of the Forest Service — past and present — as told through stories

Stories are important and powerful. As management improvement guru Tom Peters put it: “People, including managers, do not live by pie charts alone — or by bar graphs or three inch statistical appendices to 300 page reports. People live, reason, and are moved by symbols and stories.” (Thriving on Chaos, p. 506)

The stories that leaders tell, and their implied values, are shared widely through the official networks. My interests are with the values and cultural expectations that are shared informally among people not usually heard from — the folk tales that share some kind of message about organizational values and desired and undesired behaviors. I was fortunate to be steeped in such examples through many years of long drives in green rigs and lunches in the woods. By having a variety of such stories compiled, I hope that new people would be able to get a flavor for past and current FS culture — as experienced “on the ground” and from the heart.

Please consider sharing your Forest Service stories that illuminate aspects of Forest Service culture with me for the FS Folktales Project. I would also like a couple of paragraphs from you talking about what the story told you about FS values, and why it is/was meaningful to you. I plan to see what themes come across and arrange them by theme, with an introductory section for each group of stories. I plan to put out the completed work in book form and, hopefully in the future, on the Internet.

Ideally, I would like to have your name, the real names in the story, together with your region and the time period the story is from. I understand that, in some cases, you might not want to use real names and your privacy will be respected and protected. Stories are requested about the Forest Service — but they can be submitted by current employees, retirees, or anyone else who has a story to tell. Please try to limit the length of your story to about 2 pages, single spaced.

Perhaps we will also be able to see the different cultures and styles and to explore the values shared in common and those that are different — not through technical discussions or disputes over management practices, but by what kinds of stories we tell.

Some of the stories may be uplifting or morale building, like a Forest Service version of the series Chicken Soup for the Soul (Elk Stew perhaps?). If your story is humorous, or heartwarming, so much the better. If you have a story, please write it down or tape it on audiotape (videotape, even) and mail it to me at:
(my old home address)
My e-mails are … and S.Friedman:W01C on the DG.

Thank you for listening to this request. Please consider sharing your favorite stories as a gift from you to the Forest Service community and to others who want to learn about the culture of the Forest Service, and distributing this message far and wide..

Sincerely, and greenly, yours

Sharon Friedman

To clarify my previous message about the Folktales Project:
This is not an “official FS effort”. That means that FS time should not be used. I am doing it as a volunteer, and that’s why my home address and e-mail are on the request.

I’m sorry if there was confusion- I wrote the same request for those outside the FS and retirees and guess I did not get specific enough for current employees.

The other clarification is that I am really interested in collecting stories and anecdotes that reveal some aspect of organizational culture, and please add your own reflections on what you learned about organizational culture from the story.

Thank you for your patience and stories.

3 thoughts on “FS Stories: Background on the Forest Service Folktales Project”

  1. During the Jimmy Carter days, I was transferred by the USFS to run the work programs for a new Young Adult Conservation Corps camp at Fort Worden State Park in Port Townsend, WA. For those that don’t know, Fort Worden is an old military installation with many renovated buildings that have served numerous civil functions over the years, currently mostly an arts and cultural events center. The USFS rented several buildings at the time including a full 50 person barracks for this camp. I had 4 crews that my crew leaders would drive up into the Olympic National Forest for performing numerous activities. Out of these crews we formed a fire crew that would go to fire camps around the northwest and in California.

    Anyway, our Camp Director was not from a USFS background but was historically a social services professional. He decided what the camp needed was diversity (Port Townsend is virtually an all-white community, and our crews were white & Asian). He made some connections with folks he knew in Seattle, and soon several of our new actively recruited crew members living in Port Townsend were inner-city people of color. It was a culture shock for them, but a welcomed experience for many residents of our community. We all had a great time while it lasted. It was just hard for our Seattle transplants to want to stay in an (almost) all-white community after their year was up. When Ronald Reagan took office, the YACC program was disbanded eventually replaced by AmericaCorps. I stayed on with the Olympic NF.

    I was thinking about this when watching a Port Townsend Juneteenth march the other day. Diversity isn’t just about giving others opportunities. Diversity also enriches the lives of those who for whatever reason live without it in their communities.

    • Yes.. for a while it was adopted by the Teams writer-editor shop but then they mailed the box of paper ones back to me sometime before I retired. I can’t find the box- perhaps lost in a move- but do have the electronic ones saved, and a list of all of them. As with Susan Marsh’s a few weeks ago, I try to locate the author and re-ask for them.


Leave a Comment