Several folks in our Reconciliation Bill discussion have brought up the Forest Service capacity issue. So this is probably a good time to highlight the NAFSR (National Association of Forest Service Retirees) recent report (2019). Feel free to read it and let us know what you think. I thought I’d pull out the results of field interviews. Again, apologies for the length. This was in 2019, so I wonder how Covid has affected these findings. Current employees?
Leadership, Culture and Direction
Morale is fairly good
People like their jobs
Local support is mixed across the country
Quality of new personnel is good if adequate leadership is provided
Processes are improving and becoming more efficient
Units are below critical mass in terms of people and skills and cannot meet expectations
Administrative requirements are deeply affecting the productivity of all field personnel
New personnel are inexperienced, affecting decisions and results
Districts are responsible for results, but lack the authority necessary to achieve them
Priorities are clear but units are not confident they can be achieved
Technical training is lacking in timber, engineering, wildlife and fisheries
Many zoned personnel are spread so thin they can’t successfully complete priority work.
Administrative processes and centralized services are not user friendly
The most “broken” administrative practice is the hiring process, which takes too long to complete
and removes many approvals and decisions from the affected field units. This applies to both
seasonal and permanent hiring procedures.
Following the “process” often appears to be more important than achieving desired results
With the exception of fire, all programs are suffering due to a lack of skills, personnel and funding
Those providing centralized services do not seem to understand or care about customers in the field
The perceived focus appears to be national data needs, not achieving work on the ground
Consolidation and Zoning
It is estimated that 15–50% of the work is performed by partners, volunteers and community groups
Some units believe they are zoned to the point of failure
Large land bases, increased travel times, and lack of connection with communities is rendering many zoned units ineffective as they are not able to complete critical work and maintain essential
To increase the pace and scale of work, units will require a commensurate increase in critical skills including heritage, timber, engineering, soils, NEPA leadership, non–fire forestry technicians,
contracting officer representatives, wildlife biologists and local partnership coordinators
There is broad agreement that the Forest Service is abdicating its land stewardship responsibilities in the program areas of recreation, trails and special use program management.
Forest supervisors and district rangers are very concerned about the continued erosion of funding and skills in the above–listed programs
On the Ground Management
The Environmental Analysis and Decision Making (EADM) initiative is positive, and units have high expectations it will bring about needed change
o The level of understanding about and status of the current effort varies widely
o It would be a monumental disaster to morale if this effort failed
The necessary skill sets and funding are simply not available to get the work done
The recreation program funding has dropped extensively for a very long time and the Forest Service cannot provide for the needs and expectations of the booming tourism market
Process and administrative burdens exist in hiring, contracting, procurement and grants and agreements
There is a strong disconnect between those leaders who want to get work done and those leaders who are responsible for the administrative functions necessary to get that work done. This is a universal frustration in the field.
Good Neighbor Authority (GNA) is a valuable asset and helpful tool in some locations. Its use depends on the individual state’s interest, capacity and funding.
Overall, the GNA program is limited by funding and certain authorities not being granted to the states
The limiting factor to expansion of GNA, or shared stewardship, is people, skills and funding to do the job
Field units do not have a clear understanding of what approach is planned without additional funding for the counties or states to fully participate