Since the Clinton years, the Forest Service has undergone a great deal of change.  The agency was producing over 12 billion board feet of timber in the late 80’s, and by the mid 90’s that volume dropped to 2 billion.  To provide context, if that were converted to lumber, it would be a difference of approximately 18 billion feet of lumber.  The total consumption of lumber in the United States in 2015 was 44.1 billion board feet.  That’s nearly 41% all the lumber used to build homes, apartments, and other stick-framed structures.  That’s astounding!

Since the change occurred, the Forest Service has been struggling to create an identity.  That identity is unclear, but many of the current Forest Service employees want to do more for the land.  What does that mean?  Many of the leaders and line officers are doing their best to work with collaborative groups to develop management plans that work for everyone.  I applaud the efforts.  Praise notwithstanding, I wonder if those efforts will be enough?

Maybe it’s time for a complete overhaul of the system?  Now, before you start to think that I’m advocating for the privatization or selling of Forest Service lands, I am not. At least not yet. I believe there are some ways to make some serious changes that can get us the products we need while allowing public input.  It is my belief that the public participation is necessary so we can build a long-term social license to manage our forests for the benefit of all interests.

So, what does this mean?  I’m not entirely sure, but here are some concerns that I have that need addressed:

Personnel: This is out of hand. Employees are always moving.  This isn’t a reasonable system for managing forests.  There are plenty of real organizational plans developed by business and other government agencies that work better.  We need competent, qualified leadership that stays in place and builds a team. Average tenure within a forest should be 10 years or more, not 2 to 5 years.  This is especially critical when you consider the time horizon under which forests need to be managed. Longer term continuity needs to be created with the community and collaborative groups.  Our collaborative group, the Northeast Washington Forestry Coalition is in its 15th year, no members of the Forest Service leadership were on the Colville National Forest when we started.  Many positions have changed 3 times or more.

Read more from Russ Vaagen at The Forest Blog: