July 08, 2007

Bureaucratic Idiocy: the Forest Service

Journalists are starting to put "cash-strapped" in front of Forest Service the way that they put "tiny" in front of Rhode Island.

Here on southern Colorado's San Isabel National Forest, our local ranger district is making noises about closing recreational facilities such as picnic areas and campgrounds.

This is not only stupid and wrong, it would be a huge historic irony.

When you set the Forest Service's "multiple use" doctrine against the realities of the San Carlos Ranger District, here are the realities:

• Mining: minimal.

• Grazing: some, but much less than there was perhaps forty years ago.

• Watershed protection: always important, but sort of passive.

• Timber: less important than in the "get the cut out" days of the 1980s, even. I see fewer timber sales than there were back then, and of the three small sawmills adjacent to the ranger district, at least one relies entirely on private lands. There is no one to even bid on a big timber sale.

• Recreation: the main use of the forest. In fact—here is the history part—the very first national forest campgrounds in the Rockies were built on the San Carlos District. (But the FS institutional memory is usually afflicted with bureaucratic Alzheimer's.) The San Isabel NF is all about recreation and not much else.

Take away recreation, and how will those FS staffers justify their jobs?

Right now, this planning exercise was stopped by a decision by the 9th Circuit federal courts that the FS's new speeded-up planning process violated federal environmental laws. So nothing is happening right now—no public meetings.

If it is really all about the budget, the USFS (Agriculture Dept.) plays that game even worse than the National Park Service (Interior Dept. The Park Service, which has its own nonprofit cheering section, has been known to close or threaten to close something prominent, like the Washington Monument at the height of tourist season, if they need to make a point about money.

So why not close down a national forest: campgrounds, offices, the whole thing?

Of course, to do that, some political appointee at the agency's head has to be willing to take a risk.

Don't hold your breath,


Anonymous said...

Maybe it's not a ploy. Maybe they're really strapped, suffering from a deliberate DC budget squeeze as a prelude to privatizing public lands, or making access pay-to-play?

Chas S. Clifton said...


I don't think that cutting recreational facilities is a "ploy," but I think that it represents a stupid, short-sighted approach.

That said, a little paranoia is probably healthy, as some of the bad ideas of the 1980s Sagebrush Rebellion are still floating around.

I have a slightly different take on the issue, however, which I will be posting later this week.