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

By Paul W. Hirt | Go to book overview

Introduction: An Overview of the Issues

An unprecedented controversy currently rages over the U.S. Forest Service's management of America's national forests. While leaders in the Forest Service claim to be responsible caretakers of the land and servants of the people, interest groups of every stripe concerned about national forest management paint another picture. The timber industry accuses the agency of gross inefficiency. Ranchers complain that the agency is on a campaign to put them out of business. Wildlife advocates and state fish and game agencies charge that Forest Service management practices are destroying the nation's best wildlife habitat and forcing dozens of species to the brink of extinction. Cities bemoan the agency's failure to protect their municipal water supplies from degradation due to logging and grazing in the high mountain watersheds of national forests. Conservationists accuse the agency of failing to manage its resources sustainably or to equitably balance the various "multiple uses" of the national forests. Wilderness advocates say the Forest Service is nothing but a logging agent obsessed with commodifying nature and subjugating all wild land to commercial management. Economists characterize the Forest Service as a bloated bureaucracy motivated mainly by self-aggrandizement.1 Most significant of all, many agency officers, including forest supervisors and district rangers, have recently announced that they feel the Forest Service is not meeting its land stewardship mandate and has become an agency "out of control."2 In fact, employee dissatisfaction with agency practices became so widespread in the 1980s that for the first time in the history of the Forest Service large portions of the staff openly rebelled.3

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