Former chief: Forest Service 'irrelevant to some degree'

By BARBARA COYNER

For the Capital Press

COEUR D'ALENE, Idaho -- A 41-year Forest Service career brought Dale Bosworth to the pinnacle of power when he became chief from 2001 to 2007.

Now retired and living in Missoula, Mont., he tries to stay optimistic about the future of the agency founded 100 years ago.

"The Forest Service is probably becoming irrelevant to some degree to the timber industry nationwide, but in other aspects, such as water quality and recreation, it is still relevant," he said. "I would hate to go back to the '60s and '70s when we cut more timber. We've learned since then."

For Bosworth, forest health reigns supreme, and he identifies himself as a true-blue conservationist. That means rethinking several past practices such as fighting fires right away rather than following a more natural fire regime.

"Putting out fires was well-intentioned but we're paying for it now," he said. "If we'd left more mosaic patterns in the woods, maybe the beetle epidemic wouldn't have taken place. Under natural conditions, stands might have been more resilient."

As co-chairman of the fifth Small Log Conference, Bosworth listened to plenty of criticism of the Forest Service during two days of presentations. Yet the negative comments never destroyed his belief that the agency can still be a key player in forest health issues.

He favors collaboration as a problem-solving tool.

"Collaboration for collaboration's sake is a waste of time," he said. "It's all about forest health. Collaboration and stewardship contracts should go hand-in-hand. People should agree and then there should be action."

As conference attendees hammered away at the agency's lack of flexibility and innovation, Bosworth pondered the idea of enterprise groups. Such groups would be more responsive to change and open to innovative thinking.

He stopped short of saying the agency could grant such power when pitted against another government entity like the Environmental Protection Agency.

"They do have the overarching power to stop things, but I stay hopeful," he said.

Illustrating the difference in the thinking of the two agencies, Bosworth mentioned the issue of fire as it relates to air quality.

"I don't get it. Prescribed burn isn't good, but natural fire is," he said. "A smoke is a smoke is a smoke."

As the Forest Service thins overstocked forests in the wildland-urban interface to reduce fire danger, he thinks devastating wildfires have made the public more agreeable to forestry practices.

"People who live in western communities are becoming more supportive of active management," he said.

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