For almost 40 years, the United States Forest Service (USFS) has been underfunded by the U.S. Congress. Spanning millions of acres from Alaska to Hawaii to Maine, and to Florida, this sprawling government agency is entrusted to take care of America’s backyard. Every administration since 1980 has either cut or delayed funding for personell, administration, and resource management for our “land of many uses”.Roads, picnic areas, campgrounds, visitor centers, forest health, and wildlife habitat, are all deteriorating from the levels over 40 years ago.
A country that can’t take care of its backyard can’t take care of itself. The dedicated people in the USFS are the stewards of our public lands. Imagine what it would be like if all our forests were privatized and maintained for the profit and enjoyment of the few and not accessible to the general public. Or if environmental organizations, operating under their narrow agenda, denied access to the public lands as they and only they , saw fit. This is why the role of the USFS is so important – only a government agency is capable of balancing the many competing interests of all the stake holders. The USFS can not satisfy everyone in controlling the “land of many uses”. Hikers want motorized travel restricted; Loggers want access to blocks of timber; conservationists want the forests untouched. Public hearings are held, and the USFS can find a compromise between private interests and non-governmental environmental groups. All this effort takes funding – for the extensive, time consuming field work done by the highly trained USFS personnel.
What is unfortunate is the animus of environmental groups such as the Sierra Club, toward the USFS. The Sierra Club, until recently, has lobbied to cut USFS funding for many years under the guise of protecting our forests from the logging industry, which was unfairly accused of wanting to clear cut everything and rape our public lands.
With the effects of climate change on our forests – catastrophic fires increasing every year – awareness of the need to manage our forests, is growing. Forests need to be thinned at great expense. Private-Public partnerships work when timber in an area is accessible and has commercial value. But in a remote area with low value timber, the USFS has to go in and thin overgrown stands – which incurs huge costs. Only increased funding for the USFS can enable the stewards of our forests to manage them.
As a nature photographer for over 50 years, I have walked, skied, and four wheeled thousands of miles in Colorado and the West. I hardly see USFS forest rangers anymore. Once, I met the “Lone Ranger” – the only one in Colorado’s heavily used White River National Forest. No funds for more rangers. So whenever I meet a ranger on the trail, I say “Thank you for your service”.
Write Congress – don’t just hug a tree – fund it. It’s your land – enable the USFS to take care of it.