Among some lawmakers who hold the purse strings, there is a belief that the U.S. Forest Service is out of place.
The 103-year-old agency, which manages 193 million acres of forests and grasslands, is part of the Department of Agriculture. Its bureaucratic cousins — the National Park Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Bureau of Land Management, which manage 84 million acres, 96 million acres and 258 million acres of public land, respectively — are in the Interior Department. ?
At the request of the House Appropriations subcommittee on interior, environment and related agencies, the Government Accountability Office this month began examining whether it would make sense to move the Forest Service to Interior’s purview. ?
One argument in favor of such a move is that the Forest Service no longer is chiefly devoted to managing the harvesting of timber.
“Today the evolution of our forests has gone away from production and more towards preservation, and it seems to me that the natural move has made it over under the umbrella of the Department of the Interior rather than the Department of Agriculture,” Rep. Todd Tiahrt (Kan.), the top Republican on the subcommittee, said at a Feb. 12 hearing on the agency.
This is a move that’s been pushed by environmentalists for a long time. While the Forest Service is tasked with managing lands for multiple uses, its presence in the Department of Agriculture has meant that it tends to favor industrial harvest and livestock grazing over recreational uses.
The only things that scare me about this are:
- George Bush will screw this up.
- Todd Tiahrt would not recognize a good idea if Rush Limbaugh personally mailed it to him.
I suppose that somehow or other, common sense may have battered its way past Todd Tiahrt’s many defenses, and the reorganization probably wouldn’t take effect until the country is under new management. So we’ll count this as a good idea that could just sail through Congress, and actually improve the management of natural places.
As it stands, National Parks (administered by the Department of Interior) are generally surrounded by National Forests (administered by Department of Agriculture). The agencies clearly have to cooperate on fire plans, but they also have to work together as they manage endangered species habitat and plan for hiking, horseback riding, snowmobiling, and other recreational activities. It’s pretty clear that there are savings to be achieved by simplifying planning and management of those and other shared needs. It would also make it more likely that the management of natural resources would be in the hands of folks with a background in conservation, rather than the agriculture or timber industries.