Is the U.S. Forest Service broken?
As a seasoned senior citizen, I have observed the gradual disarray of the U.S. Forest Service over the last 30 years. The forest has gone from a “land of many uses” to an ecological disaster.
We have the USFS violating the Multiple-Use Sustained-Yield Act by putting plant and animal conservation ahead of mandated multiple-use objectives. They protect a single species at the expense of a whole ecosystem, as well as communities and counties. Instead of healthy forest projects, protecting resources and providing jobs to rural counties, now due to catastrophic fires, we have total devastation of hundreds of thousands of acres. This year alone, more than eight million acres of insect-ridden, overcrowded and mismanaged USFS and BLM public land has been destroyed by fire. More than 44,000 fires have occurred (annual 10-year average of 54,504 fires and 5,510,332 acres), and the average size of the fires has increased.
Have they managed the forest? Absolutely not. There has been no serious forest maintenance for about 20 years. What is the condition and health of the forest? Rep. Greg Walden showed us maps of Eastern Oregon that showed extreme susceptibility to fire. In other words, the forest hasn’t been thinned, logged, grazed or generally managed as it was in the distant past.
Has fire become a bigger cash cow to the USFS than using the available resources? Are the counties and communities paying the price for the inept management of public lands? Statistics show the loss of 33,000 forest-related jobs from 1990 to 2010. For every 1 million board-feet of timber harvested, 18 jobs are created. Our rural communities could thrive and our Secure Rural School payments could be relied upon. (Currently, many counties are facing insolvency in their budgets with no guarantee of future SRS county payments.)
According to the Capital Press (Aug. 17, 2012, page 4) 13 groups have instituted lawsuits against the USFS to overturn the Forest Planning Rule. In Eastern Oregon, four counties (Baker, Grant, Union and Wallowa) have violently protested the Forest Travel Management Plan (under the proposed plan, 3,900 miles of road would be permanently closed, denying access to any fire in the area and removing crucial buffers to stop wildfires) on the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest and sent the plan back to the USFS for revision.
My question is this: Is the USFS broken? Could the lands that they are supposed to be managing be better managed by local officials? Certainly the locals have much more interest and concern, in regard to the state of the forest, than appointed career officials (some of whom belong to and favor special interest/agenda groups) who come and go at the whim of their superiors. Is it time to look at a new direction in the management of USFS (read: publicly owned) land? If the USFS was a corporate entity, wouldn’t the CEOs, managers and supervisors be fired and a general housecleaning take place?
Is it time to take back management of our public lands? You be the judge.
Martin Stroy is a resident of Baker City.