September 12, 2006 | By:

#1 Around the Campfire; The Forest Service War on Wildeor-ness

If you work long on national forest issues, you become jaded with the United States Forest Service.  You soon understand that, far from being a trustworthy, well-meaning public servant, the Forest Service is an inbred bureaucracy driven to do things its way, and to insure itself a free hand.  Under a cult of professionalism and as a hierarchical family, the Forest Service wants no outsiders butting into its decision-making. Since the end of World War Two, the Forest Service has been more than willing to be unscrupulous, despotic, and brutal at times in order to do things its way, especially clear cutting ancient forest and building roads into roadless areas. The Forest Service’s first Roadless Area Review and Evaluation (RARE) in 1971-72, for example, was not an honest exercise to identify new wilderness study areas, but an end-run on conservationists and members of Congress who were pushing wilderness designation bills for areas on the national forests.  Outraged by the cheekiness of these “wildcat” wilderness proposals, the Forest Service conducted RARE to limit the number and size of areas to be considered for wilderness area recommendation—and to be sure that lands with trees big enough to make two-by-fours were left out. Nonetheless, the Forest Service kept a certain internal pride and integrity while it treated others with arrogance.  (I am criticizing the agency. There have always been and still are outstanding conservationists working for the Forest Service–men and women with pride, integrity, and love for Nature.)

Since Gifford Pinchot began building the Forest Service in 1905, it has been self- styled as a scientific organization. Yet the agency and its leaders have always been at least one generation behind in scientific knowledge and even further behind in applying it on the ground, even when the agency’s own researchers have produced the science (the Forest Service research arm is separate from that managing the national forests).  For example, we’ve known since the 1970s that the Forest Service’s fire-control policy was misguided, ecologically senseless, and self-defeating, but the agency just can’t change the way it responds to wildfire. Likewise, although by 1930 the American Society of Mammalogists, federal biologists, and the Boone and Crockett Club were calling for protecting predators, including wolves, in wilderness areas and national parks, several decades passed before the Forest Service brought their biology up to date.  But they did so.  In recent years, the Forest Service has been using mountain lions, wolves, and grizzlies as icons for wilderness.  Overall, the Forest Service kept a certain internal pride and integrity in being a scientific organization, albeit a slow, foot-dragging one.

So.  Here we sit one hundred years after the founding of the United States Forest Service.  And the agency is about to toss onto a Shakespearian bone pile any pretensions it once had to integrity, pride, or science.  I point my quill to the proposed change in regulations for “controlling” predators in wilderness areas: the Proposed Directive for Predator Damage Management in Wilderness Areas, 71 Fed. Reg. 32915 (June 7, 2006). Even a cynical old bastard like me was slapped silly by the agency’s shameful plan to not only allow shooting, trapping, and poisoning of cats, bears, wolves, and other carnivores in designated wilderness areas, but to casually allow the use of helicopter landings and off-road vehicles to carry out the bloody deeds not just on the margins, but in the hearts of wilderness areas, themselves.

Click on the attachment below to read the entire “Campfire.”


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