Another article from the May edition of the Journal of Forestry is worth a look: “Changes in Relationships between the USDA Forest Service and Small, Forest-Based Communities in the Northwest Forest Plan Area amid Declines in Agency Staffing.”
The authors note “chronic budget cuts and shrinking resources,” but not the shift of a large portion of the budget it does have to suppressing wildfires.
The paper rings true for me, as a resident of a small community in the NW Forest Plan area. The local agency staff are good folks, but they are too few to meet the management needs on a diverse, high public use national forest. I’m interested to hear from others on Smokey Wire whether the situation is similar outside of the NW Forest Plan area.
This article explores the changing relationships between the USDA Forest Service and 10 small, forest-based communities in the Northwest Forest Plan area in Washington, Oregon, and California. Interviews with 158 community members and agency personnel indicated that community member interviewees were largely dissatisfied with the agency’s current level of community engagement. Interviewees believed that loss of staff was the primary factor contributing to declining engagement, along with increasing turnover and long-distance commuting. Interviewees offered explanations for increasing employee turnover and commuting, including lack of housing, lack of employment for spouses, lack of services for children, social isolation, improving road conditions making long-distance commuting easier, agency incentives and culture, decreasing social cohesion among agency staff, unpaid overtime responsibilities, and agency hiring practices. Community member perceptions regarding long-term changes in community well-being and agency-community relationships were more negative than agency staff’s perceptions.
Study Implications: We found evidence that staffing declines, turnover, and long-distance
commuting may contribute to decreasing agency engagement in some communities, and that
diminished engagement by federal forest management agency employees may contribute to
negative attitudes toward the agency. Agency employee interviewees suggested that incentives
(i.e., promotions, opportunities to live elsewhere), internal conflicts, and a lack of opportunities
and services for their families are reasons that staff commute from neighboring communities
or leave their jobs. Our findings suggest that the USDA Forest Service may improve agency community
relationships by supporting its staff in ways that reduce turnover and long-distance
commuting and incentivize community engagement.