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A Burning Issue: A Case for Abolishing the U.S. Forest Service (The Political Economy Forum)

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In A Burning Issue, Robert Nelson makes a compelling case for abolishing the U.S. Forest Service. Created in the early 20th century to provide scientific management of the nation’s forests, the U.S. Forest Service was, for many years, regarded as a model agency in the federal government. Nelson contends that this reputation is undeserved and the Forest Service’s performance today is unacceptable. Not only has scientific management proven impossible in practice, it is also objectionable in princi
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3 comments on “A Burning Issue: A Case for Abolishing the U.S. Forest Service (The Political Economy Forum)

  1. Patrick C. Burns on said:
    2.0 out of 5 stars
    the plus and minus, December 7, 2010
    By 
    kc

    After reading this I would highly recommend looking up some of the books by Stephen J. Pyne. He doesn’t offer any answers but defines some of the problems in a rather succinct manner.

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  2. The Independent Review on said:
    15 of 24 people found the following review helpful
    1.0 out of 5 stars
    Fire Liar for Hire?, August 16, 2000
    By 
    Patrick C. Burns (Arlington, VA USA) –
    (REAL NAME)
      

    With nearly 5 billion acres ablaze out West this summer, Nelson’s book is well-timed if poorly thought out. His thesis is that the Forest Service should be abolished entirely and he’s being funded by the Competitive Enterprise Institute — a “shill tank” for less government and more big business profiteering — to say as much. The problem is that the REAL problem (as Nelson admits) is too much fire suppression for too long out west. Nelson argues that a “fuel buildup” out west requires more “mechanical thinning,” (i.e. logging for private profit on public lands). In reality, however, mechanical thinning is simply too expensive to do the job, while proscribed fires require a LARGER Forest Service budget to be effectively managed. It’s hard to read Nelson’s book without seeing it as being little more than a clever stalking horse: an industry-funded case statement for more rape and ruin of the forest. A visit to the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s web site (one of Nelson’s employers) makes it clear they have never seen an environmental or public health law they liked. Nelson’s book is less a case statement for forest protection than it is for continued massive subsidies for industry exploitation of public land. When Nelson says “mechancial thinning” will not pay for itself, he is really calling for massive public subsidies of the timber industry. When Nelson advocates “recovering” lost revenue from “thinning” the forest, he is really advocating chopping down healthy forests for commercial purposes. Bottom line: this book blows a lot more smoke than any of the fires out west. We need more science and less “forest liar” propaganda.

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  3. Anonymous on said:
    3 of 7 people found the following review helpful
    3.0 out of 5 stars
    Forest Fire Not the Problem, Forest Service Is, October 17, 2001
    By 
    The Independent Review (Oakland, CA) –

    Excerpted from a book review by Ronald N. Johnson in the Independent Review (Fall 2001)

    In A Burning Issue, Robert Nelson argues that the U.S. Forest Service is demoralized within and besieged from without by a wide array of interest groups. He attributes this sorry state of affairs to the Forest Service’s inability to define its mission in a time of rapidly changing values in American society. His solution to this predicament is to abolish the agency.

    “The leading policy issue today on the national forest system–issues that demonstrate the inability of the current Forest Service to deal with the basic problems of the national forests–revolve around forest fire and its ecological consequences.” Federal fire policy has sought to eliminate fire, but has instead merely changed its time and place. Wildfires have gone from being high-frequency, low-intensity events, which sustained certain ecosystems, to low-frequency, high-intensity fires prompting costly suppression attempts that have often proved futile.

    According to Nelson, a variety of interest groups have converged to sustain the fire-suppression policy. There is litle question that interest groups shape policies and political behavior, but Nelson’s book would not win high praise from academics for its application of public-choice concepts. Although Nelson may have correctly identified the underlying interest groups, he does not offer evidence to support his claims about their politicking. However, such an analysis is not his objective. Rather, he seeks to make the case not only that Forest Service fire policy, along with reductions in timber harvests, has been a costly mistake, but that the alternative approach advocated by many so-called environmentalists is also fraught with contradictions and costs.

    Although I concur with Nelson’s recommendation to abolish the Forest Service, I think it is an unlikely outcome, and his intermediate or short-run proposal offers only limited benefits. Nevertheless, his book should be required reading for all students of government, not only those concerned with Forest Service policy, because it provides an excellent source in any attempt to understand the consequences of allowing a governmental agency to become so buffeted by competing pressure groups that it loses direction and becomes an even more costly entity.

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