TEAMS Enterprise update and outreach

Larry Harrell fotoware at
Thu Jan 31 12:16:58 EST 2002

Joseph Zorzin <redoak at> wrote in message
news:3C594197.C41D9160 at
> Larry,
> Since you seem to be the one USFS guy active in alt.forestry who has the
> experience in the Circus.... er I mean Service, let me ask you a few

Yes, it sometimes does seem like a Circus, complete with three rings under
the bigtop. Look at the Bitterroot mess going on currently.

> I've always been trying to get a grip on the productivity of the USFS
staff in
> the terms I'm most familiar with- value of product sold (or value produced
> won't be seen for years) vs. cost of staff.
> So, ignoring the costs to pay for all the "ologists", and ignoring the
costs to
> fight enviros in court- and ignoring all the costs associated with all the
> "higher levels" of the bureaucracy that don't produce much- let's get down
> basics:

It is extremely difficult to seperate the "ologists" from the project,
especially in the case of Northwest Forest Plan projects, which force us to
survey for a multitude of species within the project areas. Along with those
projects come the expected appeals and court battles associated with these
areas of great wildlife habitat and larger trees.

> Let's say we look at some typical National Forest with say a million
> Let's say half of that is "commercial forest" under some sort of actual
> management. Let's say that this forest has 20 foresters and forest
> Let's arbitrarily say that it costs a million bucks to pay for this staff.
Is it
> likely that this staff will result in the sale of a million bucks were of
> timber, on average, over time- such that, over time, this staff will be
able to
> at least pay for itself, ignoring those costs I mention above which is out
> their hands?
> I would suggest that if they can't at least pay their own way under the
> circumstances I describe, then changes should occur so that forestry staff
> be focused on producing value. As a consultant I have to produce several
> more value than I get to keep. That seems reasonable to me, I serve the
> I should think that public foresters should be able to do the same thing-
> still doing all the politically correct eco stuff. I realize there are
> complications, such as the ologists and law suits and others, which is why
> don't count those.
> But, I can't think of any other way to determine the "productivity" of a
> forestry staff. Obviously, if they are doing precommercial thinning and/or
> pruning or any other such work, the economic justification for this can be
> analyzed. So, even if several years go by with no profit, it may be
> if the numbers can be shown that such work will pay off in the future- and
> that case, it could be claimed that such activity is good economics.
> Again, I'm trying get a grip on determining whether public forestry people
> really worth their cost to the public or not. And, obviously, some special
> issues may arise- like you may be switched to fighting forest fires- so
> activity can't be seen in a profit/loss perspective. I'm just focusing on
> basic nitty gritty forestry activities. I'm not thinking in terms of
> people are lazy, but whether or not their hard work is properly focused on
> producing value in the forest.
> Some people may be working "hard" but the value of that hard work isn't
> economically worth the cost. Somebody in the USFS and state governments
ought to
> be looking at this. Maybe they do in the USFS, they don't in state
> If it can be shown by the above analysis that there is real value in the
work of
> the forestry staff, then that will be a great way to protect your jobs and
> will be a good case to show why forestry is a good thing.
> Too many people focus on the ecology of the public forests and too little
on the
> fundamental economics of such activity. Both are important.
> JZ
Economics of forest management in the USFS should be an important part of
what we're doing but, most of the kinds of thinning projects we do are
labor-intensive, cover thousands of acres, harvest smaller and smaller trees
and make very little money. Projects like these hinge on the sawlog and
biomass markets and are very close to being a "service contract", where we
pay someone to come in and work. Many of these projects are critical to
making stands more fire resistant. Monopolies in some areas further reduce
the value of harvested timber. I often wonder if our minimum rates shouldn't
be raised in order to truly reflect the costs of offering the timber sale
but, will mills bid on that higher priced timber?

As far as the work ethics of the USFS, I've worked on a great many different
Ranger Districts and seen quite a range of foresters. Some are very much
into getting out on the ground and personally visiting each unit to convince
themselves they're doing the right thing. Others rarely venture outside the
office, layout the units using maps and photos and use stand exam data to
write their prescriptions. Some foresters feel that they've paid their dues
and won't go out and beat the brush. Those are the kind who demand a
temporary employee to do their dirty work, complain most about the quality
of temps and spend way too much time in the office.

Here, the uncertainty of the Sierra Nevada Framework continues to wreak
havoc on us. Many Ranger Districts are still coping with downsizing and are
actually "top-heavy". The Eldorado National Forest (my old Forest)
jettisonned all their temporary timber crews. This is quite significant
because those highly qualified people I used to work with are now lost to
the USFS. When the pendulum swings back towards active management of our
forests, we'll have to train new people to do that all-important work on the
ground. Also, with a big round of retirements coming, we stand to lose a lot
of our expertise.

Back to economics, TEAMS is helping to remedy this situation and people in
Washington DC have taken notice. TEAMS is very attractive to a lot of
managers because we're all trained, we come in and work long hours, finish
the project and we're gone. A temporary crew is always cheaper by the hour
but less productive, less knowledgable, require extensive training and
supervision. With the success of Region 5's Enterprises, the Washington
office has extended the Enterprise program to 2 other Regions.

The botton line is, we don't get a lot of money out of the forest with our
work but, we do get a lot of value in improvements to stands of trees that
desperately needs work.


       Larry Harrell Fotoware
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