Darr Moon contributed the following column to Healthy Forests, Healthy Communities.
My uncle was an engineer for the Forest Service, he helped design and build the Yankee Fork road we used to access our summer gold camp. He was a proud employee of an organization that was regaled as America’s keeper of the Forests. Throughout the 1960s the USFS provided wood products for a growing nation helping to build American’s high standard of living. New home construction soared after WWII and American wood products supplied the fiber necessary for the nation’s housing boom. Wildfires that plagued previous generations had been tamed through the careful use of forest management practices. Logging, the building of access roads and first strike fire units kept the forest green and healthy. The nation’s forests thrived, lumber production soared and all were pleased with the commendable effort done at zero burden to the taxpayer. Timber sales kept the agency fully funded, who wouldn’t love that today! Reverence for this kind of accomplishment was hailed by Republicans and Democrats alike. No political divide then at least not in the forest, it was a time of prosperity unhindered by factional bickering. Children wanted to become forest rangers; it was cool to wear a green uniform and a brown brimmed hat. And who didn’t love Smokey the Bear?
It is certainly not from any innate contempt of government that I lament the passing of the Department of Agriculture’s most celebrated agency. But the Forest Service and the fine work they accomplished has all but died unceremoniously as a garbage bin ablaze. The lingering death ironically provoked by public outcries from those who would profess to be great proponents of nature and wild landscapes the Service once groomed.
Today, in a Zombie sort of fashion, the agency survives from one over budget fire season to another. Waste deep in bureaucracies’ dictate, frozen in fear about the next environmental legal action and without clear direction or old “growth wisdom” the agency sputters along, broke to lead. Mis-guidance, mismanagement or mis-whatever you want to call it the Forest Service is but a trifle of its once glorious reflection. The giant bureaucracy now scorched and singed from decades of emotion-laden Congressional mandates, environmental activism, and permeated with a breed of knot headed urbanite sophisticates has little more left to do but die. By directing a course between fire watchman, garbage collector and environmental group patsy their predetermined fate has been sealed, a fate they share unfortunately with the forest communities that surrounds them.
Everyone in my neck of the woods has a recollection of the USFS success story. Most folks here worked for or had family in the Forest Service, they know of the real work done and the reasons for its failure. I know people today in the Forest Service who are great foresters, hydrologists, mappers and, surveyors; all capable of breathing life back into this now mostly lifeless agency. This won’t happen as it is not the globally inspired plan. In fact, this same plan has wreaked havoc on just about every institution, agency, and value that made America great.
A sober contemplative historical assessment of the USFS may offer illumination. You may find comfort looking for answers reading Doug MacCleere’s informative dissertation, or you may just want to jump off a bridge.
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