7 Feb 2008, 9:22pm
Federal forest policy
by admin

Bureaucratic Anorexia

Part of the problem is the shrinking of the personnel numbers in the US Forest Service. There simply is not the manpower to get much done. District offices have closed and national forests have “consolidated” themselves into skeleton crews. Received from John:

Many are rightly concerned about the low visibility of Forest Service personnel in their communities.

In FY2002, the agency had 16,348 FTE’s in the National Forest System.
In FY2008, the agency had 11,156 FTE’s in the National Forest System, a 32% reduction.
For FY2009, the President proposes reducing the FTE’s in the National Forest System by another 11% to 9,973.

An example of the sad state of on the ground staffing: a consolidation in one region created a district some 2 million acres in size staffed by 10 FTE position. From a management standpoint, in my view, that is virtual abandonment of the land.

8 Feb 2008, 11:57am
by bear bait

Under 10,000 is about 30% of the folks working there when they had a working forest and a timber program.

If I remember correctly, just three years ago USDA-USFS put on 3,500 type 2 fire types, and gave them full time status, all the bells and whistles, but you had to be under 35 years of age to qualify. That kicked their long term fire crews, with all the technical qualifications in the Personal Task Book, square in the groin. They lost too many sergeants and ended up with what would appear to be a third of their employees being type 2 firecrews… who do low-skill, non-technical, make-work projects in the off season.

In terms of college-educated skilled workers, outside of of clerical work-the paymasters, human resources types, and the paper pushers-they are probably down to a couple of thousand people who actually work in the woods in management functions, who are not cops or special pit toilet campground monitors and rent collectors. There might be more meat to a skeleton than what now composes the USFS.

As I have said before, they no longer can get there from here. The three people left to do the work probably spend most of their time in safety meetings, conflict free workplace meetings, and gender and sexual orientation respect meetings, and might only schedule one day a month to tack up some Smokey Bear signs and close some roads. Dysfunction Junction is their favorite TV show.

8 Feb 2008, 12:06pm
by bear bait

I failed to point out that the old fire crew system was made up of mostly temporary employees who worked 8-11 months of the year and then were laid off. Many had worked for 15 or more years, were older than 35 (the minimum age to be hired and qualify for a pension at mandatory retirement age for fire fighters), and were the institutional memory of that line of work. The hiring of 3,500 green workers who got full time employment with health and welfare benefits was hurtful, in many ways.

The Fire Overhead Teams are made up of full time people who are hired for other jobs, and they do the OT work as loaners from other agencies, fed, state, and local, for 21 day maximum terms per incident.

Still, if under 10,000 field personnel is the new human capital budget, I cannot fathom how that level of employment can even be a minimum Brinks presence for the asset size and distance.

8 Feb 2008, 5:23pm
by Sierracitizen

The agency is doing custodial management. No need for a lot of staff. There are those that believe the FS should be contributing to the general fund. They sure don’t think that they should be the drain that they have become. We already have considerable National Park Service managed land that serves the same role that the national forests seem to serve.

8 Feb 2008, 5:27pm
by Backcut

I foresee an attempt to return to “Federal McForestry”, where temps are hired off the street to work for a mere 1039 hours in a calender year, with no benefits and little chance of becoming permanent. The problem with that, besides the obvious, is that today’s projects require much more expertise than in the old days. We have to follow a myriad of rules, laws, practices and policies. Basal Area and crown closures have been thrown into the mix and precise land measurements are required, as well. Sorting through new hires and determining who is worth investing lots of training dollars into is frustrating for local units, who often cannot get the person with the skills they’d like to hire. In the meantime, we end up with timber crews who are more like fast food employees. Yep, gotta make cookies out of dogsh*t, and they’d better be damn good cookies, too!

The higher-ups would love it if the fire folks could be counted on to do timber work in the off-season. I’ve seen that tried all too often, with mixed results. Many like having a different management code to charge to, but, they don’t really like doing the work.

Many of the Timber Managers nearing retirement age have become frustrated and are giving up on any hope of stability in the forests. They sometimes seem quite willing to just let the system collapse, knowing that a new one surely must be better than what we have today.

The gap in expertise is certainly already here, and with all the impending retirements, we’ll see even less knowhow in the higher ranks, where they make the important decisions.

8 Feb 2008, 5:31pm
by Mike

Ten FTE on 2 million acres is barely enough to make the coffee. Somebody has to answer the phone and fill out all the forms in triplicate. No need for any vehicles; nobody will have time to go out upon the land. Ten Dilbert cubicles in a small room is all they need.

It’s sub-custodial. I agree with John; it’s abandonment.

8 Feb 2008, 5:41pm
by Mike

BC — most of the woods worker temps seem to have language-barrier problems these days, and so the level of technical prowess is abysmal and dropping. This includes people to whom English is the only language they know, sort of (and just imagine the math barrier problems!)

PS Your pics are tree-mendous. Click on Backcut above for a virtual tour de forest.

9 Feb 2008, 4:47pm
by Backcut

Thanks, Mike! Lately, since I’m laid off for the winter, I’ve been scanning my old Kodachrome slides and building a reasonable facsimile to a coffee table book of Yosemite.

I’ve seen quite a few field-going people on Ranger Districts who are VERY resistant to the seemingly ever-changing processes required in today’s projects. We’ve just recently switched from using CMT data recorders to WinCE-based units. Imagine hooking up an 8088-based data recorder up to a Pentium 4 laptop (and using DOS commands)!!!

There’s also a huge knowledge gap between the managers and the field-going crews. GS-11’s and 12’s don’t know the difference between a NAD27 and a PDOP. Some have finally accepted the 90’s technology, kicking and screaming the whole way.

9 Feb 2008, 4:59pm
by Mike

What I was referring to was more along the lines of:

- can’t tell a fir tree from a pine tree
- can’t drive a stick shift
- can’t work a two-way radio
- can’t fill out a time card
- can’t show up to work sober

etc. etc. Please note I used the phrase “woods worker temps.” I was not referring to GS 11’s and 12’s. I suppose I could have, but I didn’t.

9 Feb 2008, 6:42pm
by bear bait

Memory flash: sitting in the Mountain High parking lot waiting for someone to come out of the store (Detroit), and watching a USFS VAMP try to pull a stick shift PissFir Willy pick ‘em up out onto 22 and head for the Detroit RS. 5 times she killed it. 5 times. The guy sitting in the shotgun seat was stoic at best. And they would roll back, re-start and she would get to the highway and put on the brake, wait for traffic, and kill it once again. Did I howl? Did my wife ask me if that is why you always see the female driving if there was one of more males in the rig? For the comedy of it? And we giggled all the way to Sisters.

9 Feb 2008, 7:00pm
by Mike

Yes. And I once pulled a rangerette out of a ditch way back up there. Lucky I came along or she’d have had a long walk out. Didn’t know how to work the radio or steer the brand new purple pickup they gave her.

But that’s not what I was thinking of. I was thinking about the Thom-Seider Project and how their excuse for 8 inch max diameter limit is that the workers are not qualified to cut anything larger.

The thinning crews are not trained cutters. They are brush monkeys more used to stoop labor in ag fields. The short-handled hoe crowd. Not English-speaking. Capice?

Instead of providing decent jobs at decent wages for American citizens, the USFS prefers foreign-national migrant laborers. In fact, they design their projects precisely for those workers rather than any others. Ditto the firefighting crews.

It makes me so mad. I want my forests back. I am sick to the bone at the ugly rip-off of my birthright and the destruction of my forests, rural communities, and my country. The people in charge in Wash DC make it impossible to do anything but despise them utterly.

12 Feb 2008, 12:47pm
by Forrest Grump

Abandonment? I wonder if this is a “flight of the phoenix” syndrome underway, and I am torn as to whether I like it or not. I do NOT want to see an ash field where everything begins again from nothing…not when there is still a possibility of saving that which exists now…I’m really not talking the agency.

The privates could care less anymore what happens to the public lands. They are probably laughing in their Brooks pinstripes thinking of the prices they will score, what with USFS timber getting smoked and British Columbia being snarfed by beetles.

I truly regret the Bush administration. USDA/USFS/BLM were and are nothing but a sideshow for Leviathan. And the upcoming presidency looks to be even less.

If the public forests of the West are to be relevant, then they need to be managed by those who want them to be relevant. That in turn means folks for whom national forests are relevant. Now, who dat be? WO burro-crats and DC eco-groups, the New York Slimes? Nah.

As much as I hate to say it, the agency John and others here worked for is dead, killed by Jim Lyons and Frankensteined by Mark Rey. I cannot see rebuilding the Forest Service out of young forestry-school Franklinites under federal hiring guidelines. Nor can I see commitment to landscapes coming from those who can transfer from region-to-region, at least not like you would see from someone “stuck” in a state or mountain range.

I would say the last great hope is to turn over the national forests to the states via a bonding process. The nation got this land for 3 cents an acre, pretty favorable terms, so I would say bonding for these lands should be equally reasonable-held against the potential liability of the current dysfunctional setup.

At the same time, the states should not be required to carry over the remaining FTE’s from the USFS regime. The survivors are those who find the current state of affairs (which has drug along for 20 years, a full career) good enough that they would stick around… that alone is a solid indicator of their priorities.



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