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*The opinions and content published in Rants and Raves are solely those of the author and do not represent EOMA or its general membership. No agreement or complicity is expressed or implied.

THE FOREST SERVICE AND A BOX OF FROGS

- Brian Gardner
- 10/24/2008

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After 30 years of dealing with the U.S. Forest Service, I sense that they are finally reaching a critical melt-down stage.

Land management policies are spinning wildly out of control and biological anarchy rules. Administrators and personnel jump in and out of the political cauldron like a box of frogs on steroids.

Here are ten reasons that explain how they got where they are and why you probably cannot expect things to change anytime soon:

REASON 1: PROMOTION/ADVANCEMENT SYSTEM

The Forest Service rewards rank and tenure, not genuine experience, intelligence, skill or virtue.

Forest Managers and scores of other FS employees are regularly forced to fill job openings elsewhere across the nation in order to advance or survive within the government bureaucracy. Of course they are rendered completely ignorant when they arrive at their new job locations, since the land they descend upon is nothing like the landscape they left behind.

This kind of transient, revolving-door management scheme would be considered insane by any private, bedrock industry on the planet. Real enterprize requires talented, experienced personnel on site to direct and manage land holdings. But in the Forest Service, a ranking Supervisor from a tiny Florida cypress swamp is likely to be promoted to manage a vast, Oregon alpine forest of fir and pine. All they require is a basic understanding of the latest CFP Regulations and a means to deposit their paychecks.

REASON 2: ROMAN ETHICS

Every Forest Service employee, regardless of rank, is indoctrinated with an ancient Roman concept: That government is an end in itself and their raison d'etre. They must be made to believe that their regulations and penalties are actually a gift to the public and a benefit to all of humanity -- that without their superior control and enforcement, National Forests would become...well... the diseased, insect-infested, worthless wasteland that they have become.

Why else, in the face of their overwhelming failure, would they arrogantly persist in proclaiming themselves the saviours of the ecosystem and lords of the biosphere?

REASON 3: HIRING/FIRING POLICIES

The Forest Service has become an employment juggernaut and safe haven for anyone who manages to break the barrier of 'temporary' job status. Once made permanent, you couldn't successfully terminate Charles Manson without reams of administative documentation to substantiate individual acts of misconduct over five years, intervention hearings, formal appeals and supporting testimony.

More realistically though, it has become nearly impossible to dismiss from service the incompetent, the lazy, the inordinately prejudiced, the foolish, the deranged... Unless they commit the most vile of bureaucratic sins: insubordination. To disagree or question any directive - no matter how senseless it may seem - is a cardinal violation of internal politics and will get you canned (or more likely re-assigned) in a week.

Their method tends to reward those who are lazy but compliant, to promote people who are incompetent but who object the least to performing nebulous tasks. Those who remain become entrenched Lemmings. When they retire or leave the FS (for any reason), they seldom find work in the private sector - unless the employer desperately needs a FS interpreter to fix government contracts - because they have no viable skill in the actual economy.

REASON 4: JOB SECURITY MOTIVATION

Forest Service employees do not spend sleepless nights worrying about the condition of the National Forests or the welfare of American citizens. They do not drive to work dreaming of ways to improve land management or cut costs.

Instead, they mainly focus upon sustaining their jobs - along with the opulent medical and retirement benefits the government guarantees to all it's minions - and upon positioning themselves to move up the bureaucratic food chain. The aloof and vacant attitude they project to the general public is not the result of some special, objective professionalism they possess. The fact is that they truly don't care. That is, of course, unless you're poweful enough to impact their job status or threaten their internal advancement.

REASON 5: SOCIAL STIGMA

FS personnel don't often hang out with ranchers, farmers, loggers, miners or anyone else who has a sincere, vested interest in the land they manage.

Much like law enforcement officers, they sequester themselves into small cloisters of like-thinking individuals and conduct their social activities inside the sphere of their own little group. Thus surrounded by people who uniformly support and confirm their opinions, they begin to view everyone outside their group as an adversary or obstacle to their progress.

This elitist, esprit de corps attitude is widely promoted and encouraged in corporate america. But corporate america isn't a public service industry nor do they control vast tracts of public lands -- the disposition of which directly impacts millions of american families.

REASON 6: THE NUREMBERG FACTOR

Immediately following WWII, at the Nuremberg Trials, and endless procession of war criminals pleaded innocent to a laundry list of human atrocities by claiming that they were merely 'operating under the orders, directives and regulations of higher authorities'.

In similar fashion, the Forest Service regularly uses the identical blanket-excuse to justify ugly local land management decisions, horrible fiscal policies and performance failures. They want us to believe that they are merely the puppets of their masters in Washington D.C. and, as such, cannot be blamed for their blatant procrastination, incompetence, obstructionism or mismanagement. This 'don't kill the messenger' plea is nothing but a ruse to defray the resposibility for bad decisions away from themselves, which is precisely where it belongs.

It is the classic persona of the faceless, irresponsible bureaucrat who wishes to remain anonymous and distant from the destruction he/she creates. If we are to think of them as messengers of any kind, then they might better be described as the type that precede Armaggeddon rather than those who deliver babies.

REASON 7: PSEUDO-MILITARY STRUCTURE

The only military operating proceedures the Forest Service has adopted are the ones that make them among the least effective organizations on the planet.

The 'foyer' system was outdated shortly after the signing of the Magna Carta. The 'why have a hundred people do it with shovels when you can have a thousand do it with tea spoons' philosophy was dropped after the last depression but is still overwhelmingly popular with FS Administrators. Perhaps the one contemporary characteristic that both the military and the Forest Service share is their propensity to spend an incredible amount of money on new equipment and menial tasks.

REASON 8: PROBLEM-SOLVING MENTALITY

Problem-solvers need -- uh,well -- problems. The Forest Service is saturated with people who couldn't pour water out of a boot if the directions where carved in the heel... unless the task was presented to them as a problem to solve. And everybody knows there isn't any money in prevention.

But the problem (with problems) is that something has to happen before a team can be assembled to fix it. That makes everything they do ex post facto. Insects must first destroy half the forest before the team can figure out how to save the other half, maybe. The ash from a 'controlled burn' has inadvertantly landed in nearby drainages and formed natural lye, thus killing every species of fish in the streams for twenty miles in every direction. That's a problem.

But the real problem is you. Everything you might use the National Forest for -- whether it's hiking, riding, mining, grazing, camping, etc. -- is considered inherently destructive. The FS not only views you as an enemy, but considers your personal conduct potentially dangerous regardless of your activity. Smokey the Bear has become a paranoid, cynical, suspicious overlord.

REASON 9: BUDGET PROCUREMENT

The government rewards lavish spending (see #7). The more you spend, the more you can ask for and receive. The unbelievable waste of both equipment and personnel used to fight forest fires in the west is legendary. But, even without a wildfire, the FS can spend a bloody fortune annually on a single EIS (Environmental Impact Statement) that takes years to produce. That, along with a whole raft of highly questionable employees on the payroll - including wolf-callers, bird-spotters, junior college archaeologists, illegitimate geologists, untrained biologists, tree painters and others - make the Forest Service the most extravagant, least efficient organization outside Sweden.

REASON 10: LEGAL TIMIDITY

Like any bureacracy, the Forest Service is terrified by lawyers, law suits, or even the suggestion of legal action. The law supercedes their Ranger Dictatorship and threatens to hold them accountable for their actions. And why are they so timid? Only because they realize that their regulatory laws are no match for actual statutory law. Their inter-office, kangaroo court decisions don't cut it when put under a microscope.

So they spend their time planning the battles they can win and scheme to assert their will upon individuals who cannot afford to oppose them.

THE BOTTOM LINE

While I know and respect several exceptional individuals who work (or have worked) for the Forest Service, the overall condition of the agency itself is so dismal, corrupt and self-serving that any hope of repairing it is becoming more futile every day. Appointing a political commission of overseers is like asking the rats to watch the mice.

Alarmist environmental constraints will continue to force the Forest Service to circle the wagons and erect every regulatory barrier they can to prevent any activity that even hints of profitablility. The legitimate development of natural resources - or even setting foot upon them - has been condemned as a sinful and destructive practice for any reason, let alone mining.

In the mean time, while the National Forests continue to self-destruct under poor management, the Forest Service will continue to thrive until it collapses utterly and completely like the recent stock market or like a pillar of ash that has grow far too high only to implode upon it's own flimsy structure.