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[at-l] USFS essay (long)
- Subject: [at-l] USFS essay (long)
- From: Michael Henderson <email@example.com>
- Date: Fri, 17 Jan 1997 09:23:09 -0800
thought this article by randal o'toole might be interesting to many on the
>The Forest Service Chief and the End of the U.S.D.A. Forest Service
>I do not usually make political prognostications, but I feel safe in
>that the U.S.D.A. Forest Service will not survive the next decade. I expect
>the next Secretary of the Interior will propose to combine the Forest Service
>into the Department of the Interior and rename it the Department of Natural
>Resources. The plan will succeed, and soon after the Forest Service will be
>recombined with the Bureau of Land Management and other Interior agencies,
>completely losing its identity.
>In the past, when similar proposals came from Interior secretaries such
>as Harold Ickes in the 1930s or Cecil Andrus in the 1970s, they were met with
>stiff opposition. Environmentalists, timber companies, ranchers, and other
>national forest users all saw the "independence" of the Forest Service as
>something that was valuable to them. Gifford Pinchot founded the Forest
>with the idea that the forests should be managed by experts, not by
>Leaving the agency in the Department of Agriculture helped insulate the
>from meddling by the president because the Secretary of Agriculture, unlike
>Secretary of the Interior, is not very interested in forest policy. When
>merging the Forest Service into his department, he was effectively stopped
by an aging
>Pinchot. This insulation worked to a great degree.
>When presidents Nixon, Carter, and Reagan ordered the Forest Service to
>accelerate timber cutting, agency officials just laughed. The Forest Service
>wrote its own rules, set its own policy, and made its own decisions. If the
>agency was not as sensitive to environmental issues as environmentalists
>like, it was much more responsive to environmental concerns than the BLM,
>of Engineers, Bureau of Reclamation, or even the Park Service.
>Contributing to the insulation was the lifetime tenure of the chief.
>Between 1910, when President Taft fired Pinchot (and lost his reelection bid
>because of it), and 1993, when Clinton fired Dale Robertson, no chief was
>fired by a president. When chiefs retired, they played a major role in
>their replacement, who was almost invariably someone from with the agency.
>Clinton effectively changed that tradition when he replaced Robertson with
>Ward Thomas. Thomas was a lifetime Forest Service employee, but someone who
>lacked the rank and experience that would previously have been required of a
>Forest Service chief. As chief, he failed to provide effective leadership,
>partly because he was unable to prevent meddling by administration
>When the administration fired Robertson, Assistant Secretary of Agriculture
>Lyons claimed that it was not "politicizing" the office of the chief. In
>they were taking the first step down the proverbial slippery slope. The next
>step has now been taken.
>Jack Ward Thomas announced his resignation as chief of the Forest Service
>in October. Apparently, he had agreed to take the position of director of the
>Boone and Crockett Research Center in Missoula, Montana, as long ago as last
>spring. He did not want to announce this change until he could get the
>Administration to agree on an acceptable replacement. But then he bought a
>house in Missoula, which was a matter of public record, and rumors began to
>So he was forced to make his planned retirement public. Secretary of
>Dan Glickman insisted on his right to pick a new chief without
>the old one. "I get to pick the director of all my other agencies," he said.
>"Why not the Forest Service?"
>Glickman picked Mike Dombeck, who had been acting director of the Bureau
>of Land Management. Although Dombeck had worked for the Forest Service
>1978 and 1989, his "defection" to the BLM would formerly have ruled him out
>potential chief. (As it turned out, Dombeck had Thomas' support, which may
>how out of touch with reality Thomas is.)Dombeck has a Ph.D. in fisheries
biology, and his work for the Forest
>Service was in fisheries. But he also spent a year working as a legislative
>fellow for a U.S. senator. With the help of that experience, he is now more
>politician than a biologist. When he moved to the BLM, he worked not in
>fisheries but in lands and minerals management--in other words, as a
>who spent much of his time as a liaison to people on Capitol Hill. As acting
>director of the BLM, he focused on providing that agency with a "vision" and
>with streamlining the Washington office. But he made almost no effort to
>on-the-ground management and no effort at all to change the incentives facing
>resource managers. Instead, he has allowed the agency to get bogged down with
>"advisory councils" and more planning.
>Dombeck brags that "BLM lands generate more revenue than they cost to
>manage." But he doesn't say that virtually all of that "revenue" is
>to the BLM or some other agency. Actual returns to the Treasury are only a
>fraction of the costs to the Treasury. This suggests that he will fit
>with the Forest Service, which is fond of using similar arithmetic.
>The first step down the slippery slope of politicizing the Forest Service
>was in firing a chief. The next step is in appointing a chief who is more a
>politician than civil servant and who is not a lifetime Forest Service
>The step after that will be to appoint someone who has never been in the
>The final step will be to merge the Forest Service into the Interior
>That final step will take place in the next administration because there
>one left who cares enough about the Forest Service to defend it anymore.
>The agency itself is completely demoralized and user groups, including
>environmentalists, are so alienated by it that they won't fight a merger.
>all, environmentalists supported and hardly anyone opposed the Robertson
>In fact, however, Gifford Pinchot was right: Politicizing the Forest Service
>will be bad for the national forests and all their users. The flaw in
>design was that he effectively insulated the Forest Service from the
>but did not insulate the national forests from Congress--in particular,
>appropriations committees. For at least the last fifty years, appropriators
>made it plain that they funded the national forests for one purpose and one
>purpose only: pork, mainly timber pork. Chiefs Thomas and Robertson both
>complained that, whenever they testified before the appropriations
>the only question they were ever asked was why didn't they cut more timber.
>Robertson's predecessor, Chief Max Peterson, told an Oregon congressman, Les
>AuCoin, that if they cut more they would run out of timber by the year 2000,
>AuCoin replied, "But chief, neither you nor I are going to be here in the
>Assistant Agriculture Secretary Jim Lyons believed that by politicizing
>the agency--that is, appointing a new chief and other top officials and then
>micromanaging the forests from his DC office--he could effectively counter
>political meddling by Congress. Even if Lyons were a true-green
>environmentalist, which he is not, this strategy is doomed to fail. For one
>thing, Congress has far more power over the agency than the secretary, as the
>salvage sale rider demonstrated. The reason for this is that Congress has a
>power that Lyons lacks: the power over the budget, which effectively
>agency's incentives. Gifford Pinchot's idea of management by experts, rather
>than politicians, still makes sense--but only if the experts are given good
>incentives. Rewards for cutting timber at a loss or overgrazing at a loss are
>not good incentives. Neither are rewards for following the whim of whatever
>president happens to be in office. Those who want to fix the Forest Service
>should focus on incentives, not personalities.
>Randal O'Toole The Thoreau Institute
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Michael Henderson firstname.lastname@example.org
There is more to life than increasing it's speed - Ghandi
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