Magazine article American Forests

Of Owls, RIFs, and Gridlock

Magazine article American Forests

Of Owls, RIFs, and Gridlock

Article excerpt

The challenge of managing the remaining old-growth federal forests in the Pacific Northwest continues to grow in spite of (or, some might argue, because of) the strategy put forth by the Clinton Administration. Though most of the sentiment within AMERICAN FORESTS (as expressed in this column in the last issue) has supported the President's concepts and political courage, we have also been well aware of the enormous risks and problems involved.

Some of the most difficult challenges seem to be transitional. Agreeing on a long-term management strategy may be a lot easier than getting from here to there. The Forest Service, for example, is being asked to do considerably more, and different, assessments to back up its management decisions. But today, additional studies simply create another layer of work that must be done.

At a time when the agency appears to need more staff and a somewhat different mix of skills to do the field work for ecosystem management, budget cuts accelerated by the sharp drop in federal timber sales will force staff reductions in many of the national forests most seriously affected by the old-growth controversy. The most dreaded possibility, according to agency managers, would be the need to do an official "reduction in force," or RIF. A RIF creates an enormously disruptive game of musical chairs. The costs of moving employees, losing continuity in jobs, and losing younger employees likely to have the new skills needed add up to an enormous drain on talent, morale, work efficiency, and money.

Recognizing this potential hazard, the Administration and Congress are moving to try to cover the need for downsizing with additional authority and money for early retirement "buy-outs" and other means to accomplish the reductions without forcing a RIF.

Even without a RIF, downsizing agency staff during this transitional time is an enormous shock. A study by Forest Service managers identified another $162.5 million needed to meet the Clinton plan's needs. Congress responded by adding $29 million in the Senate version of the appropriations bill. In addition, many of the needs could be met by "reprogramming" existing budget line items--switching from the activity in the line item to the one needed in the forest. Congress has been reluctant to allow this practice in the past, but the pressures are high this year to ease controls in the appropriations bill and allow greater latitude for agency managers. AMERICAN FORESTS has for many years called for fewer line items, less Congressional micro-management, and a different method of budgeting and progress accounting. …

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