Two Sides to Every Story: What’s the Other Side? Housing for Employees at Seeley Lake

Thanks to Nick Smith, I ran across this from Scott Snelson in the Hungry Horse News. I know there are many Region 1 retirees out there, so would appreciate any info you would be willing to share, either in the comments or by contacting me directly via email.. “sharon at”.
In my experience, there are always reasons for peoples’ actions.

The lack of vision from the U.S. Forest Service Regional Supervisor, as well as her staff, helped sink Pyramid Lumber, with it taking the livelihoods of over 100 Montanans along with rich opportunities to help the climate and reduce fire fuel hazard risk. Solid and innovative solutions to significantly help the housing issues in Seeley Lake and other communities have been presented to Regional Leaders for years without any meaningful action.

A group of U.S. Forest Service District Rangers from the Northern Region began meeting in 2021 to work on solutions to the housing crisis faced by existing and future USFS employees. It was painfully apparent to the rangers that our ability to attract and retain high quality employees and get the public’s work done was unreachable unless we found solutions to the high cost of housing.

At the same time, it was clear to the rangers that unless there was an expanded market for small diameter wood, our ability to treat meaningful acres of overstocked stands to reduce wildfire risk was also unreachable.

The nexus of these challenges also provided incredible opportunity for the communities in the Seeley/Swan Valley and the Flathead. An emerging small diameter cross-laminated timber (SDCLT) industry that utilizes the very type of wood we need to remove from our stands for fire hazard reduction, could have been further catalyzed by the purchase of “temporary” panelized houses. These units could be rapidly deployed on USFS administrative sites to give Forest employees and others an opportunity to transition into tight local housing markets. Should the housing crisis wane, the SDCLT units are designed to be easily dismantled and easily moved to other locations. This type of construction is wood (carbon) intensive and stores the carbon for the life of the panels (designed to last decades longer than traditional frame construction).

The District Ranger at Seeley Lake had identified approximately 20 acres of USFS lands that could have been rapidly developed for USFS and other community housing to meet the housing crisis. These concepts were presented to the Regional Forester and her team years ago and were met with the standard chorus of excuses why the status quo needed to be maintained.

Providing employee housing at administrative sites is far from novel. Until the 1980s, it was common for the USFS.

In my nine years as a USFS line officer in Region 1, I haven’t seen any indication there is meaningful leadership capacity in the USFS Regional Office to face the multiple crises we are encountering; climate, fire hazard, housing, and employee recruitment and retention. The guardians of the status quo have circled the wagons and armed themselves mightily against change and innovation.

6 thoughts on “Two Sides to Every Story: What’s the Other Side? Housing for Employees at Seeley Lake”

  1. I’m not surprised. I’ve seen the same hesitancy to acknowledge recreational solutions being employed in other regions. Region 1 upper management has been infuriating in the 20 years I’ve been searching for fair treatment for mountain bike recreation. They remain, due to inadequate oversight, in the dark ages. Meanwhile on the Seeley Lake Ranger District, I bet more than 50% of the forest has incinerated. This author, using forceful language, is likely accurate.

    • Well, but I’ve seen people I highly respect move to Region 1 including in leadership positions. I think that there is possibly more to these intra-regional interactions than meets the eye.

  2. Sharon, re: Seeley Lake. You are correct about small diameter trees. Great potential given significant advances in wood processing technology. But until something is done about abuse of EAJA, what happened to Pyramid will continue until there are no mills left in Montana.

    Collaborative groups – stakeholders – were instrumental in the development of the Montana Forest Action Plan. Litigious anti-forestry groups refuse to collaborate because it does not fit their “sue and settle” business model. I think binding arbitration is the only viable solution. Jim

    • I’m curious why these mills haven’t mentioned litigation/EAJA as a factor. Especially litigation over small diameter trees.

  3. Oh my, don’t get me started; the Law of Unintended Consequences is certainly at play here. In and around 2005, the Washington Office began an attempt to dismantle FS on-site “quarters”, not to be confused with “facilities”, by cost pool reductions (I think cost pool 9, I may be wrong). It was more of a decline in cost pool funding, during a time when everything was beginning to become more expensive. So, in fact, the pressure was to get rid of these square footage drains.

    I resisted, as a DR, and never relinquished a single structure. I know how valuable crew housing is – I started out in a government house, with my new bride, and on a remote ranger station.

    So, the sky has already fallen, and now those who did what they were told (for no other reason) have a mess on their hands. I don’t particularly support moving in a bunch of portable, cobbled up structures on Federal land! The WO needs to own up to this mess and engage these communities for solutions. Go to that magical “fire pot” that has no bounds…..

  4. RE: Housing

    Two recent posts on Facebook’s Grant County Happenings by newly hired Malheur Forest employees complaining about the lack of rental housing in John Day in this “one-stoplight” town, which has become a seasonal refrain.

    My reply FWIW?

    There is plenty of rental housing in John Day, it’s just tied up with people who don’t work for a living and have no intention of ever doing so. In many cases by multi-generational, professional welfare miners, the early ancestors of whom began arriving (imported) here soon after it was discovered that the Oregon democrat solution to mill closures in the 1990s was to throw so-called “health and human services” funding at those who had lost their employment, only to realize that the targets actually preferred to work and had mostly moved on. Since giving money back is never a good-government solution, the bread line vacancies had to be filled. Fast forward three decades and one of Grant County’s strongest (and rapidly growing) economic sectors is its welfare programs, which directly creates deficits in available worker housing while reducing the local labor force. The centralized socialist solution to which, is to double down by using taxpayer funds and government authority to build more housing, creating all sorts of collateral damage to existing residents.

    Claims that rural county economies perform better with higher proportions of federal land, promises that impacts on impoverished frontier communities will be considered in all program implementation, and the constant DEI focus are all meaningless and hollow, in my opinion, when viewed from the realities of the people most affected (not to mention the actual impact of large federal programs that work mostly to enrich a few chosen winners at the expense of everyone else).


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