An open discussion featuring two former forest service chiefs gave students, faculty and community members a chance to talk about past and present forest management issues in the United States.
Jim Furnish, former deputy chief of the U.S. Forest Service, and Michael Dombeck, former chief, spoke about management issues in the pacific northwest on Oct. 22 at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.
They focused on the 1980s political crisis surrounding salmon, endangered species and ecosystem management particularly in the Siuslaw national forest, Furnish’s former jurisdiction.
Furnish read excerpt’s from his book, “Toward a Natural Forest.” He also showed “Seeing the Forest,” a film documenting the forest’s transition. The event closed with Furnish and Dombeck taking questions from the audience.
For much of his career, Furnish dealt with political crisis and worked toward managing the Siuslaw in a more holistic way.
Prior to the late 70’s, Furnish said, the forest service in the United States was a well-respected agency, and national lands were aggressively harvested for their seemingly inexhaustible timber.
“The nation trusted the forest service, as long as the policies rested on its values,” Furnish said.
However, a series of lawsuits and reports about forestry practices quickly changed the way he and the public thought forests needed to be managed. Large clear cuts and removing debris from salmon streams, for example, would no longer be tolerated.
“The Forest Service was in big trouble,” Furnish said. “The Forest Service failed to embrace environmental concepts.”
By reading an excerpt from his book about a fishing trip in Oregon, Furnish illustrated how practices that damaged forests were.
Furnish and a co-worker experienced excellent trout fishing in a stream flowing through a large clear-cut with steep hills. Years later, he was in disbelief when after describing the fishing quality to another man that man responded, “I know which stream you’re talking about. They’re all gone.”
The cut had decimated the trout habitat and ruined the fishery.
At the time of the controversy, the Siuslaw was one of the most productive forests in the world in terms of timber, Furnish said. People thought the forest would be destined for preservation, but he was determined to find common ground.
He opened up the discussion on both sides of the issue by extending open invitations to anyone interested. The result was a new outlook on forest management that allowed commercial forestry to go on in a way that maximized ecological and recreational benefits of the forest as well.
“He’s a progressive leader and an early thinker,” Dombeck said about Furnish during the presentation. “He took a natural resources and policy issue and put it out there. That’s something a lot of people wouldn’t have had the courage to do.”
Dombeck emphasized how pivotal issues like those on the Siuslaw have been in changing management strategies and education.
“Those of you in this room without gray hair are really at an advantage,” he said. “They didn’t have any training on this.”
Richard Imp, freshmen forestry major, attended the lecture because it was required for a class but also because he was interested in the content. Imp said he chose to study forestry because he loves the outdoors and job markets are good.
“I’ve never actually talked with a Forest Service employee before,” Imp said. “I haven’t had the opportunity to pick their brain.”
Imp found the discussion portion of the evening enlightening. Furnish’s positive commentary about Wisconsin’s Menominee Tribe’s forestry practices made him eager to learn more.
“The way he talked about it, it seems like something I should have a better knowledge of, being from Wisconsin,” Imp said.
Furnish’s openness in discussing mistakes and past management impressed Imp.
“He was more than willing to admit that he had taken part in something that he doesn’t support now,” Imp said. “I thought that was really cool.”