Sunday, November 10, 2013

What Ruined the Forest Service?

Gifford Pinchot and Theodore Roosevelt, 1907
The Forest Service has a long history and a noble beginning.  Gifford Pinchot, the first Chief of the United States Forest Service, used the simple and proven laws of economics within the free market economy to develop a self-sustaining system.  Using proven scientific methods of forest management, and backed up by the natural managerial interest in long-term profitability, Pinchot oversaw a long, successful means of sustainable management.

With every system comes critics, and in this case environmentalists wanted less "commercialization" of our natural resources.  Nobody wants to see our forest lands turned into an industrial wasteland, but Pinchot's system ensured it was in our public's and our national resources' best interests to be sustainably utilized.  This was further ensured by 1960's Multiple-Use Sustained-Yield Act, which more specifically mandated equal protection for our renewable resources of timber, range, water, recreation and wildlife for the maximum benefit of people and the environment.

Then something different happened, and as anyone who has had the misfortune of dealing with the Forest Service in the last few decades can tell you, the agency has become the poster child for bureaucracy, ineffectiveness, waste, incompetence, and mismanagement.  One may reasonably argue that this describes every government agency, but the Forest Service is a special example.  The U.S. Forest Service has suffered the fate of a horribly misguided social experiment.

Christpher Burchfield's book The Tinder Box: How Politically Correct Ideology Destroyed the U.S. Forest Service details how the U.S. Forest Service was destroyed by a socialist experiment in human resource management instituted in 1981.

Available from Amazon
Read the book's eye-opening reviews on Amazon, many of which are written by former and current Forest Service employees.  Or read the thorough review by Don Amador, a trusted OHV recreation and management consultant:


For resource and recreation professionals, understanding the agency you work for or with is critical.  That knowledge will make you more effective.  As an OHV recreation consultant who often works with federal and state land management agencies, I want to share my thoughts on one of the most eye-opening works of agency-related literature that I have read in recent years.

Written by Christopher Burchfield, The Tinder Box, chronicles how the Forest Service (with a special focus on Region 5) became host to one of the largest court-ordered social experiments in modern times.

The book details the 1970s era ramp up to the July 1, 1981 Consent Decree.  The Order by Nixon-appointee Judge Samuel Conti directed the Forest Service to implement an unprecedented gender parity hiring program.

The purpose of this review is not to champion or assail the merits of the Decree, but to note how the historic Gifford Pinchot-inspired agency mission of forest and resource management was shifted to creation of a Decree-specific bureaucracy.

The Tinder Box describes how this process evolved in early 1970s and continues on to this day with either overt, covert, and/or tacit support from Congress and over 6 presidential administrations.

Although I take umbrage with the author’s occasional disparaging comments about OHV recreation, his research does seem to substantiate what I have heard from agency employees over the last 23 years on how the Decree has contributed to agency dysfunction and lack of morale.

There are many characters in the book some of which I have worked with or talked to.  Just a few folks mentioned are Max Peterson, Ann Veneman, Dale Robertson, Jack Troyer, Matt Mathes, Jack Blackwell, Jim Lyons, Mike Espy, Wally Herger, Dave Meurer, Jeff Applegate, Lynn Sprague, Corky Lazzarno, Ken Wolstenhom, Mary Coloumbe, Dan Chisholm, John Mica, Ron Stewart, Bob Grate, Robert Tyrell, Doug Leisz, Jack Ward Thomas, and Mike Dombeck.

You will also become familiar with the 1964 Civil Rights Act, Maupin White Paper, Bernardi Consent Decree, Male Class Complaint, Thirtymile Fire, the 43%, and the Blue Book.

Given the impact of 40 years’ worth of Decree-inspired litigation and policies combined with an endless avalanche of environmental lawsuits, it is amazing that agency staff today are even able to sign an OHV event permit, complete a travel plan, construct a trail, or produce a map.

This is a must read for Forest Service employees (new hires, current, or retired) private sector recreation and resource professionals, congressional staff, grassroots leaders, and sister agency employees.

After reading this book, you will have a clearer understanding of the Forest Service and a better appreciation for the men and women who continue their efforts – despite the challenges - to serve the public and care for the land.


--- Don Amador

PS - Set aside a good block of time, since you won't want to stop reading it.

1 comment:

  1. Both of the reviews are all true. There were a a few technical errors in The Tinder Box's the first printing.But these I found through newer copies bought by neighbors were corrected.

    Author of Tinder Box knows the agency's behind the scenes machinations better than anyone working for forest service today. What galls me, and why I have commented on it on several websites is that I spend a lot of time in the woods.. Worse, is how Republicans such as both Bush presidents and Newt Gingrich rolled over,and betrayed the very people who voted for them. This is something I will never forget. Parker H. French

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