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Dave Olson is the public information officer for the Boise National Forest. He has been with the Forest Service since 1972 and with the Boise National Forest since 2001. This interview was conducted in the summer of 2011 by Bruce Reichert.
What changes have you seen in the Forest Service?
What's really nice about having a relatively new forest plan is that it really has some new thinking; the Boise National Forest plan really has a strong focus on restorative or restoration activities.
It really set the stage for kind of how we were going to manage the forest for the next 10 to 15, if not 20 years, and the focus really is on restoration. So, for example, we have a very strong aquatic conservation program that we're going to do to restore fisheries, habitat that is more accessible for bull trout and other aquatic organisms.
"The value of public lands was demonstrated to me when I moved from Idaho to Virginia for a period of time in my career, and what I found when I moved to Virginia was the immediate sense of loss of access to public lands."
We also have what is known as a wildlife conservation strategy, which is really looking not only at just wildlife, but also how vegetation should be managed, that would more mimic natural processes and sort of the natural eco-system that was here, particularly back in the 1800's or prior to white people coming into this area. That really has set the stage for focuses on such things as how we're going to manage vegetation through a timber sale program or some kind of restorative activity. If we have a new fire started by lightening in certain areas of the national forest, we're going to look at how that might best meet this fire adaptive eco-system that we are in.
And it gave us some incentive to really start looking at travel management, with the increase in motorized vehicles, and how that would be managed into the future.
What forces got you to where you are now on the Boise?
I think the ability to work together is key for public land management. Public land management is oftentimes very value-driven. I had a forest supervisor one time who said, I feel like I'm the trustee with about a hundred heirs to that trust, and I'm trying to manage all their interests and all their values and what they want to have come out of this family trust.
And I thought, that really defined what public land management oftentimes is about. You have so many people with different views about what should happen in public land management. It is always a challenging task and a balancing act in many ways to meet those values, meet the laws and regulations and really look at the long-term effects of what is going on in the national forests.
So I think what has kind of evolved over the past couple of decades, with all the different parties, is that they realize that many times they have the same interests. They really love the land, they appreciate the land. They may have different ideas about what should happen on the particular piece of ground or the forest as a whole, but I think that ability to kind of understand each other, to talk through various issues, to try to work for common ground is an evolution that we're seeing today.
Some have argued that maybe the Forest Service today has lost its mission.
With the forest plan developments and moving into the 2000 era, I think we've actually focused more on where we are and what we are trying to do with public land management or national forest management. And clearly the aspects of recreation, the aspects of restoration, the aspects of understanding what fire's role is on the environment, where public interests are as far as motorized recreation, and just getting out into the out of doors — we're trying to adapt to that and to meet some of those interests that are out there.
What is the effect on aquatics? We've always done that, but there is definitely an emphasis on that. What is the effect of vegetation management on wildlife? What has historically been happening on these public lands for centuries. Those are very key aspects that we're looking at now, realizing that there are social and economic values that also come into play. So you really have always that mix of social, economic and natural systems or eco-systems that have to be balanced in a way that is palatable.
I imagine there are some issues — like motorized vs non-motorized use — that can be incredibly difficult to resolve.
Just in the past five years most national forests now have a travel management plan in place. They have worked with the motorized users and the non-motorized users to create designated trails for motorized use, so both the motorized person and the non-motorized person can say, %"I know where to go if I want something or I don't want something." So that's very helpful in establishing this balance that you are always trying to seek in national forest management.
Consequently, I think there are always going to be issues surrounding motorized use and the access for motorized users, but I think it is getting more balanced these days, and I think there's a sense of an understanding that a compromise has been reached.
This whole idea of public lands, has it been a success or a failure as a national policy?
"That's the beauty of public lands, really. It allows everyone in the nation to have a bit of that national forest. Each person in essence could have their own little acre."
And I had come from working in the McCall area, which has vast tracks almost outside your back door. And what made a striking impression upon me is the importance of public lands, and the value of having those for folks who are seeking some opportunities to get out of the cities, to have some mountain recreation experiences, to go rafting, fishing, whatever it might be, that they enjoy doing and also to those who are trying to make a living off the national forests. You really need that balance of private and public lands, and to have public lands accessible is extremely important for our nation, and I think the founding fathers that put together the public lands as a whole are to be greatly applauded with a standing ovation.
But more than 60%, can that be good for a state?
But that's the beauty of public lands, really. It allows everyone in the nation to have a bit of that national forest. Each person in essence could have their own little acre and it really gives that opportunity for everyone to have a little bit of something instead of maybe one or two having virtually all of whatever it is that is available to them. So it's a nice balance.
I think what's good about what we have in Idaho is we do have a lot of public land, but we also have the intermix of private land. So, for example, if you focus just on timber, in the '80's there was certainly a lot of private timberland with Boise Cascade and some of the larger corporations. There is also then that intermix of Idaho Department of Lands and their objectives of what they're trying to do with the land. And then you have the national forests and the other public lands that are here. So it provides that kind of blend between all three of those entities in that particular example.
To me the simple worst case scenario would be the loss or disappearance of public lands because that would actually take away a resource that this nation has that anybody can enjoy if they so choose.