My first shock came when I learned the Chief of the Forest Service had to resign due to inappropriate behavior. I probably shouldn't be shocked as it has become all to common-place and more prevalent then we would like to believe. In 34 years with the agency, this type of behavior seemed extremely rare. It is disappointing that the head of the Agency had to resign for the reasons stated and situations like this certainly contributes to lowering employee morale. I have had serious concerns about the leadership of the agency for the past 30 years, to the point, I am not sure I could have continued to work for the agency that was once known as a world renowned leader in forest science. Retirement has provided the opportunity to examine the science of forestry in great detail and pushed me to take an active role in pointing out the missing link in the science and management of our Natural World. It is difficult to observe the reduced influence and respect my former Agency once held.
My second concern surfaced when I received a copy of an article entitled, " Plummeting Morale In the Forest Service: Why it Should Matter to Americans Who Love Nature ", written by Susan Marsh. Susan was our Recreation Staff Director on the Bridger-Teton National Forest when I was Forest Supervisor. It is great to see Susan's commitment to the natural world with her writings that are now available since her retirement. The morale of the employees in any organization can make or break the company or government agency so, it is sad to observe the down fall of an agency that was once known as the Marine Corps of the civilian government agencies. Susan's observations are on track however, I would offer a little more detail as to how this situation developed over the past 30 years.
Certainly, leadership of any organization plays a key role in the morale of the company or agency. Susan's article points out the first 80 years of the Agency was organized with decision making being delegated to the line officer located closest to the issue at hand. The organization structure had four levels of line officers; District Ranger, Forest Supervisor, Regional Forester and Chief. Customer satisfaction was high as you could meet face to face with the local officer and resolve your concerns on the spot. In the late 1980's things began to change. The Chief of the Forest Service had always been chosen from professionals within the agency and leadership and experience were key elements in the selection process. The person being considered for the next Chief became inappropriately involved with an employee which eliminated him from consideration. The person selected was very intelligent but had limited managerial experience and lacked good people skills. About this time, the Agency became involved in a law suit over the limited number of women and minorities within the organization. The Courts directed the Agency to take steps to develop an organization that better represented a cross-section of the American public. The Forest Service successfully initiated a program to employ more women and minorities. The white male culture of the Agency accepted the Court's direction but, worked hard to maintain the white male cultural values that had become dominate within the Forest Service since it's inception. Although, never said, new employees were expected to adopt these age-old values, which led to the start of a major down-turn in employee morale.
The new Chief was faced with implementing a new planning process that was being challenged by public groups, individuals and companies and, found it difficult to trust his line officers to work out resolutions to resolve the issues. National timber interests were threatening a major law suit over national reductions in timber outputs.
The new employees were being promoted to responsible positions with very limited experience and leadership felt compelled to limit their decision making authority. This placed new line officers in difficult positions when attempting to work with their local customers. Yes, morale has been plummeting ever since and has reached a point where we should all be concerned. The 193 million acres of forest and range lands managed by the U.S. Forest Service, and containing the vital natural elements we require for the sustenance of life on our planet, demands the very best care we can provide. The science of forestry requires new direction, strong leadership and dedicated employees!! The invasion of politics into the Agency has not helped and centralizing services and decision-making has led to unacceptable performance. I have always been concerned about the difficulty of terminating agencies that have served their propose but, the U.S. Forest Service is needed now more than ever and must find a way to re-establish it's integrity, leadership and employee morale. The driving goal of the Agency must change to the SUSTAINABILITY OF THE NATURAL ELEMENTS THAT CAN ONLY BE PROVIDED BY HEALTHY DIVERSE FOREST COMMUNITIES!!! Our public forested lands are vital for our future and must be protected and properly managed by an Agency that represents our public interests! Transferring our public lands to State or local governments, that lack the funds to properly manage, or selling public lands to private investors will result in extreme devastation for future generations!