The United States Forest Service came into existence in 1905 when forest reserves were transferred from the Department of the Interior into the care of the Department of Agriculture. In the early years management focused on protecting the lands from overgrazing, fighting wildfires, protecting wildlife, and promoting recreation. During the middle of the 20th century the forest service saw an increase demand in the areas of timber production and recreation. Today’s Forest Service is still heavily involved in all of these areas of forest management but has taken a more holistic approach to its practices.
But to many people there is no apparent difference between the Forest Service and the Park Service. And why would there be? Like me, the majority of visitors’ experiences in National Parks and National Forests are very similar; they range from hiking in the backcountry, enjoying vistas from roadside viewpoints to camping at developed sites. But the Forest Service differs from the Park Service in its multiple use mandate. Sure, recreation is a huge portion of what the Forest Service does but there are a lot of other goals the forest service must consider in its management practices.
This can be seen in the Forest Service mission: “Sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the Nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations.”
The Forest Service is not only interested in preservation for the sake of preservation but to also manage the land as a resource; it is also involved in timber, mining, grazing, fish and game. I feel thankful that in my experience working for the Entiat Ranger District I was able to gain an appreciation for the breadth of work that goes on within the Forest Service. While most of my work with the Forest Service would fall under the category of recreation, I feel even these experiences are extremely varied and provided me with a fuller understanding of how the Forest Service operates compared to, say, the National Park Service.
Even within recreation many types of varied use are encouraged and facilitated. The Entiat Ranger District is home to a network of multi-use trails which allow for mountain bike, hiker, motorcycle, and horse use. On rangering patrols in these areas we were responsible for making contacts with various types of users. On one particular hitch in the Upper Mad River area, a series of multi-use trails, Mike and I were sent out to inform motorbike users of an ongoing 100 mile/100k race in order to ensure the safety of all types of users. Recently hunting season has begun in Entiat, and we were sent out to make contacts with hunters in dispersed sites. It was this type of work that made up the majority of our season but trail work was also a significant portion of our work.
When working alongside the trail crews of the Entiat Ranger District and the Chelan Ranger District I was able to develop an understanding of all that goes into maintaining the trails. While working with the trail crew I helped with logout, building and maintaining tread, and digging drainage. In the final weeks of the season I participated in a portion of a bridge project which involved nearly a week’s worth of work spent just pulling logs into position using a grip hoist and a chainsaw winch. Normally the logs would be taken from nearby but in the interest of not disturbing Spotted Owl habitat the logs were brought in from a site farther away. While these considerations may slow the completion of the project they are an example of the holistic approach the Forest Service must take in its management practices. As someone who had spent a lot of time hiking on maintained trails but never participating in any sort of trail work prior to this season I definitely did not appreciate the amount of effort that goes into maintaining a trail, much less building one. With such a large portion of the Forest Service budget going into wildland firefighting, resources that may have gone to maintaining trails will be spent fighting fires or preparing land for prescribed burns. Early in the season Mike and I went with the fire crew to a prescribed burn area to help the crew prepare the area for the burn.
Fire and recreation are the largest expenditures within the Forest Service but many other smaller crews are doing work within the district. To name a few, there is a weeds crew that goes out to control the spread of invasive weeds, a timber crew that surveys the forest and collects cones for seeds and a crew of biologists responsible for stream surveys among other things. The work done by all of these different divisions is done in order to realize the mandate of the Forest Service. It’s safe to say there is a lot going on behind the scenes.