When science is confronted by emotional reaction to a decision that is not popular, science often takes a back seat. Take the Forest Service’s decision to not allow camping on top of Independence Pass to prevent damage to the fragile tundra ecosystem during the USA Pro Cycling Challenge race.
Were alternative camping sites available? Yes, but they were too inconvenient for some. As a matter of fact, space was available at developed campsites along the route Wednesday night.
Those of us involved in resource management decisions love our jobs and take them seriously but we also have a sense of humor. That’s why we got a good laugh at the T-shirts that poked fun with “trt” (for tundra response team) and a little tundra figure’s hands in the air.
Sometimes baseless accusations are hurtled at the agency and a cub reporter may find it easy to interview a few disgruntled spectators. Our desire is to get as much information as possible to the public through the media in a transparent manner so people understand why and how we arrive at decisions.
The United States Forest Service mission is to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the nation’s forest and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations.
“Caring for the land and serving people,” best captures that mission.
Those words fit well with the choice I made, along with many of my generation, to pursue a career in the management of America’s public lands. My decision was influenced by reading Wallace Stegner’s “Beyond the Hundredth Meridian.” At that time, if a word had to be picked to describe what I would become by pursuing such a dream it would be “conservationist.”
Conservation laws were passed mandating how to best care for the land and serve people. In the Forest Service we also have regulations, executive direction and congressional intent to guide our decisions.
Decisions are made taking into account 13 guiding principles that help realize our mission. One of those principles state that, “We recognize and accept that some conflict is natural and we strive to deal with it professionally.”
Many of the complex problems faced by the White River National Forest decision makers involve multiple conflicting objectives. Conflict handled professionally often leads to better collaborative decisions.
If decisions are made by caring for the land and serving people then they are appropriate. However, balancing both these priorities is not easy. Popularity is not part of the equation.
Conflict in today’s land management arena centers primarily on recreational use of public land. The focus is often narrowly reduced to “my use, my way.” Instead of “re-creating” their outdoor experience by renewing their spirit, many people become vehemently entrenched into what becomes a siege mentality that leaves no way for reason.
It becomes “my right to do as I please wherever I want to whenever I can” with no regard for any long-term caring for the land. What is missing is a willingness to modify behavior for what is appropriate to consider in making good land management decisions. Being inconvenienced trumps conserving resources.
Two of the other guiding principles that the Forest Service uses are: we use an ecological approach to the multiple-use management of the National Forests and grasslands, and we use the best scientific knowledge in making decisions and select the most appropriate technologies in the management of resources.
The Pro Cycling Challenge wasn’t our first rodeo. When we get thrown off the bronco, or in this case thrown under the bus, we smile, get up and dust ourselves off, ready to meet the challenges facing present and future generations.
Bill Kight is the public affairs officer of the White River National Forest.