Sunday, July 13, 2014

Reflections in Blue and Green, 7

     (This series begins with the July 2 post:                                    
                   The Chief
     The Forest Service lives within Agriculture's accretion of Victorian and New Deal architecture near the corner of 14th Street and Independence Avenue, halfway down the Mall from Capitol Hill. The then-chief of the USFS, Jack Ward Thomas, slumped in a chair, his back to the Washington Monument, the classic field man saddled with duty in the imperial city. His pallor and width of beam testified to no great hardship, his open collar and turquoise bollo contrasting with the businessman's tack worn by most Washington bureaucrats. The farther one gets from the woods, the more he stresses affiliation with it.
The apprehension voiced by some of Thomas's colleagues when he was appointed suggested that he would be a different sort of chief, tough but enlightened, in the tradition of Gifford Pinchot, Roosevelt's sylvan lama, of Aldo Leopold and Bob Marshall. Thomas had worked his way up through the system and was not chosen by a cabal of top Forest Service brass and the outgoing chief, as was customary; he was expected to inspire timber beasts, stump-jumpers and the rest of the service's pantheon to bring about change.
Thomas was eager to dispel this notion. He had to deal with the Senator (Stevens) and others in Congress who wanted to eliminate all restrictions on logging in the national forests. Any actions perceived to be on behalf of wildlife reflected the desires of the Clinton White House, he says, and the momentary desires of "the democracy," but not necessarily his or those of his agency. Widespread charges of pressure put on Forest Service biologists to alter their science to allow larger cuts were worth pursuing, he agreed, but "I'm not running around looking for biologists."                   

(Aldo Leopold, about as far from what
the Forest Service has become as a
man could get)

     The list of honors awarded Thomas — the Aldo Leopold Medal, the Wildlife Society General Chuck Yeager Award — was long, but the suggestion that some consensus has evolved at his agency out of the disruption caused by the issues of old-growth and endangered species annoyed him. "The idea that there is a mentality within the service is erroneous. There are 30,000 individuals... I can't get consensus in my office about whether or not to go to lunch."
But there is a mentality and it remains a problem. The Service's legacy of working in difficult terrain when getting the cut out was the only concern produced a military cast of mind, a chain of command that punishes dissent and holds in contempt the views of civilians. Today the general and his lieutenants must deal with anyone in off the street, not just the timber industry, senators, and journalists.
    Thomas, rude as he was, sounded almost wistful when he spoke of the remove of southeastern Alaska, "where the distances are long, and time spent getting there much longer." Then schemes devised in Washington, and Tokyo, could be put into effect with the rigor and independence of a Roman governor overseeing the marauding Celts.
      (Next: wilderness by water)              


For newly released titles go to:

(Please remember when ordering directly from Amazon to choose the newly-released versions of Memphis Afternoons, The Big Easy, World's End and The Kingdom in the Country, which have been updated.)

No comments:

Post a Comment