Interim supervisor talks about the Ochoco NF's future
John Schuyler shared his thoughts on the future of the forest and his views on such issues as timber sale appealsJohn Schuyler has been acting Forest Supervisor for Ochoco National Forest for about four weeks. The process for finding the person to fill the job permanently will take about 120 days, but quickly added that "the clock, as far as I know, has not started."
While new to the Ochocos, Schuyler is not new to the business of Forest Service management. He began his federal career as a seasonal at Ukonom Ranger District, Klamath National Forest in 1977. He became district ranger at Salmon River District, Klamath National Forest in 1996.
Even as interim supervisor, Schuyler understands the controversy that nearly reduced the local national forest to becoming only a part of the nearby Deschutes National Forest. For budgetary reasons, combining the two forests looked like a good idea a few months ago. After local pressure built, the decision was made to leave the Ochoco National Forest alone.
Looking at the decline in funding, it is clear why the proposal to merge the two made sense. In 1990, the Ochoco NF budget was about $26 million. This year the budget Schuyler has to work with is less than half that amount and the 2004 projection is for a budget of about $10 million.
Those monies come, he explained, from a variety of sources and must be used for fairly dedicated purposes. All of the management duties as outlined by Congress have to be done within the funding supplied by that body. "Ten years ago, people said they wanted a reduced federal government," he said. "That was when t he Forest Service budget was reduced."
About the same time timber sales came under attack and any potential income from that source also fell off. Newer, more sophisticated logging practices are a part of the new restrictions. Using skyline and helicopter systems is a lot more expensive, and Schuyler pointed out, even once a timber sale has passed the appeal process, often nobody will offer a bid.
Again looking at timber harvests on the Ochoco National Forest, Schuyler said the trend is for smaller and smaller sales. "In 1996, about 36 million board feet was harvested. That fell to about 21 million board feet in 1998 to 6.4 million board feet in 2000. Too often, when a timber sale reaches the auction stage, past the appeal stage, the sale is possibly not bid on, not sold and harvested."
As one person pointed out, an appeal that delays a salvage harvest can make that harvest sale unprofitable. Schuyler agreed. The Hash Rock Fire Salvage Sale is a good case of this, he said. The fire burned about 18,000 acres, with 15,000 of those acres in the wilderness area and won't be touched.
"That leaves less than 3,000 acres of pine and the delaying tactics reduces the value and soon that timber will have no value, and then they (the appellants) have won."
And there is not much that can be done, he added.
Commenting on the lengthy appeal process that can tie up a harvest sale, Schuyler said there isn)t much that can be done. "Appeals come from around the state, not from Prineville," he said. "We live in an open environment where all it takes is a 34 cent stamp. There is not much we can do to streamline the appeal process."
One idea he proposed is to bring people from all walks of life together to, as he said, "find out what we all agree on, to see if there are any activities we can agree on."
Timber harvesting is not the major focus of the Forest Service's future. Looking ahead, Schuyler pointed out that the agency's workforce is aging and many are getting ready for retirement. "We need new people with advanced skills," he said, "people with high tech, computer skills."
The number of employees is decreasing and the local outlook appears to be an increased population growth and tourism. "As of today, the headquarters will remain in Prineville with subunits in Madras and Paulina. But there will continue to be a sharing of work with the BLM."
A big job will be to keep the districts intact while looking for more efficiencies. One example of that, Schuyler said, is, for the first time, the closing of the Ochoco Ranger District station for the winter.
Setting out his goals, Schuyler listed the need to work closely with local residents, and seek public input. "We need to make knowledgeable decisions and then share the rational for those decisions," he said.