We Need to Talk- About the “Other Kind” of Diversity
Our blog has profited from discussions of many hot topics regarding the Forest Service and public land management. Some folks, some internal and some external, have said “we need to talk about diversity in the FS.” I wondered about how the followers of this blog would feel, as it may be a bit FS-centric for our readers, but we’ll see.
I think that there are some reasons that it might be worth talking about:
1) who works at the FS is important to the future of the FS and our public lands
2) as with so many things, if not handled well, it can be demoralizing to employees
3) there aren’t many other avenues for people to discuss it
4) the whole enterprise of figuring out what “we” want, and bringing diversity, is, I’m afraid, rife with fuzzy thinking.
We have a proven track record here of mostly respectful dialogue on topics that people feel passionately about, so I am optimistic we can say things on this topic that express our experiences and remain civilized.
Right now I see a series, with this as the first installment. There are things happening right now in the Forest Service (or at least right before I retired) that are worth talking about and will be, but let’s start with the history, at least as perceived by one person. Check out this book and the reviews.. there are still a great many hard feelings and passion, as you will see. It seems like a fire-o-centric view, but then there are many fire-o-centric folks in the Forest Service (and among retirees, if the Rendezvous was a random sample).
The title of the book is: The Tinder Box: How Politically Correct Ideology Destroyed the U.S. Forest Service.
Of course, as one might expect, I see things differently, including that fact that I don’t think the FS, nor Region 5, are “destroyed”. But I think it’s interesting that in the comments, many of the current woes of the FS in California (and elsewhere!) seem to be attributed to the Consent Decree.
I ran across this piece about how “feminism” had destroyed the Forest Service; yet I have found it generally found the Forest Service to be a remarkably “un-feminist” kind of place:
Most of the women did not stay long in the most grueling jobs, but they were invariably replaced by others overwhelmed by the tasks. Shaw was eventually denied a position as fire management officer. He said a much less qualified woman was chosen instead. He told Burchfield:
No one had any respect for her; no one had any respect for fire management; no one had any respect for the Forest, and no respect for the agency. It all drained away.
Ironically, affirmative action made for a level of hostility toward female employees that did not exist before. Sensitivity training became standard.
Before the Bernardi decree, men who retired from heavy labor in the field often went into office work for the Service, where their knowledge of the lands contributed to their work. Afterward, these jobs went to those who had little experience on the ground, leaving a void where institutional knowledge was once preserved.
While quite a few men have won individual discrimination complaints against the Service – and have been denied promotion ever since – two major class action suits by male plaintiffs were never fully aired in court. The Supreme Court refused to review them.
The Forest Service, which once turned a profit, now loses millions. Undergrowth flourishes, causing many more fires. According to Burchfield, “eight of the eleven worst fire seasons since the 1950’s have occurred over the past twelve years:”
True enough, urban interfacing, changing climate patterns, and the ever-rising numbers of youths brought up without supervision (today’s arsonists, meth dealers, etc.) are contributors to these disasters. But, the primary cause of these losses is the agency’s madcap obsession with gender equity, which by 1987 had resulted in a tremendous drop in prescribed burns, clearing of fire lines and slash cutting. In many instances, the Forests are so badly overgrown, that they possess 10 to 100 times as many saplings per acre as those managed by the Indians of 180 years ago.
Mexican marijuana cartels commandeer acreage in the West for farming. Crime has increased and service patrols are inadequate to respond to it, with women forest officers particularly disinclined to restrain those violating rules. Recreational trails and mapping have deteriorated so much that the only hope in many places is that these duties will be someday turned over to local conservancies. The tremendous increase in the use of off-highway vehicles has exacerbated this neglect.
Last I looked, there were no female Station Directors, and in Region 2, last I looked 2/11 forest supervisors were women, and one deputy forest supervisor out of seven. So out of 18 line officers of the forest supervisor persuasion, there were 3 women. If women are 50 percent of the population, and after 40 years of trying, we are still less than 20%, then perhaps draconian efforts like the Consent Decree are needed (just a “straw person,” really!). But I think it’s hard to blame a more generic agency-wide torpor on too many women. Not impossible, just hard, especially if you look at the numbers.
This is definitely a situation in which we all need to “listen with the ears of the heart.” I think that if we listen carefully, with an open mind and heart, to everyone’s stories, perhaps we can find a better and more inclusive path forward.