Forest Service Capacity: Or Not? And NAFSR Recommendations

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
Working Well

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.

Workforce Capacity
Working Well

Fire organization


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
Working Well:

It is estimated that 1550% 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, nonfire 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 abovelisted programs

On the Ground Management

Working Well

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.

Working Well

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


5 thoughts on “Forest Service Capacity: Or Not? And NAFSR Recommendations”

  1. Ranger Districts often want Temporary Employees who are ‘team players’, but are unwilling to actually put them on the team. The USFS still does not value the work of temps, especially in technical fields and inspector roles. They say fire season is year round, but that forest management ‘season’ is exactly 1039 hours per year.

  2. The “Personnel Changes by the Numbers” table reflects accurately the Forest Service’s transition from Timber to Fire Fighting agency. A Timber agency needs engineers to build logging roads and biologists to assess and try to mitigate logging’s ecological consequences. A Fire Fighting agency thinks it needs none of these skills.

  3. One other thing that is new, in Region 5, is the effect of CalFire hiring 1400 new firefighter positions last winter. I heard bits and pieces about not having fire crews at full capacity, last summer. I could see some young timber temps going over to fire, if offered a permanent.

    With the infrastructure bills still stalled, ‘the process’ might take too long to fill positions before next summer. I don’t think Congressmen know that surveys need to be completed by ‘ologists’ before work can begin. Some surveys (Botany, for example) cannot be attempted until August, when the plants can be identified. Wildlife surveys have similar restrictions. I wonder if 20-year old Heritage surveys are ‘good enough’, on a landscape-scale project. (We had full surveys done before doing bark beetle harvest, from 1989-1992. One project (out of a dozen) totaled 41,000 acres, to harvest from.)

    Our Ranger District had an army of temps keeping the loggers moving. We had 5 or 6 marking crews, 8 Harvest Inspectors and 6 Sale Administrators. There were several wildlife crews and 4 cultural crews. Back then, a temp could work up to 220 days, with an extension, in a year. I doubt that such a ‘force’ could be assembled out of temps today.

    Now, apply that to all western Ranger Districts, with a mandate to ‘fix the forests’ and get them ready for wildfires.


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