A Conspiracy of Optimism: Management of the National Forests since World War Two

By Paul W. Hirt | Go to book overview

13
Conclusion

In the annals of Forest Service history, 1991 will be remembered as the year the manure hit the ventilator. The unstoppable force and the immovable object finally met. Region 6 [the Pacific Northwest], for the first time in history, will not even come close to meeting our timber sale target. Even though field foresters have known since the mid-1970s that this day was coming, it still represents a major shock to our bureaucratic system.

Tim Foss, Region 6 timber sale planner

World War Two initiated a new era in Forest Service history, an era of fullscale industrial production and an outdoor recreation boom that flooded the national forests with new and competing classes of users. The agency met these challenges with enthusiasm after four decades of mainly custodial management. But accelerated production forced the Service to face new challenges to its central policy of sustainability. As timber demands in particular exceeded earlier determinations of sustainable yield, the agency adopted the ideology of intensive management to justify increasing the allowable cut, believing that its foresters could greatly enhance forest productivity on a permanent basis. While a certain amount of artificial enhancement was achievable, environmental, political, fiscal, and technical constraints limited the success of intensive management so that sustainable levels of resource extraction were quickly exceeded. But rather than scale back development, denying forest users the full measure of their demands, agency leaders and politicians adopted a conspiracy of optimism, asserting that more infusions of technology, labor, and capital would keep artificially

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