But the 1980s had already witnessed a revolution within the Forest Service. When Clinton took office in 1993, the Forest Service was a completely different agency from what it had been in 1981, when Jimmy Carter left the White House.
This revolution produced the greatest change in national forest management since the late 1940s, when the agency's primary goal moved from fire suppression to timber sales. The effects of the more recent revolution are clearly shown by a chart showing that national forest timber sales have fallen by more than two-thirds.
Contrary to popular belief, the reduction in timber sales and other changes happened not in spite of the Forest Service, but because of it. In 1993, agency leaders were far less enthusiastic about timber and far more concerned about practicing true ecosystem management than they were in the late 1970s.
Environmental lawsuits, lobbying, and other pressures certainly contributed to this change. But so many other factors were involved that environmentalists really were little more than a Greek chorus: Urging events onward but not playing the starring role.
Some of the real stars were line officers such as Jeff Sirmon, district staff members such as Jeff DeBonis, and agency scientists such as Jerry Franklin. Before looking at their stories, let's go back to the late 1970s to see what the Forest Service was like some twenty years ago.
In short, they were all foresters. Forestry schools mainly taught timber management, but they lived by the fiction that they created generalists who could balance fisheries, wildlife, watershed, recreation, and range concerns with timber goals.
Kaufman also noted that the Forest Service had a rigid, almost military hierarchy. Communication was almost exclusively restricted to vertical directions: Down from the Chief, through the regional foresters and forest supervisors, to the district rangers on the ground, and back up again.
Kaufman might have noted that the Forest Service did have some non-foresters working for it, but mostly in the agency's research branch, which was completely separate from the national forests. The biologists, geologists, and other scientists in the research branch were available to help national forest managers on request, but did not presume to tell them how to run their forests.
People today frequently say that the Forest Service was--and perhaps still is--"captured" by the timber industry. Yet the Forest Service was no more captured by the industry than the industry was captured by it. The Forest Service had its own interests and its own agenda, and it appeared to work with the industry only when the industry's interests coincided with the agency's.
From shortly before 1950 up through 1980, the Forest Service timber program was part of a classic "iron triangle"--a coalition of a bureacracy, an interest group, and a legislature. Such a coalition need never be formalized; it works because the interests of the three parties all happen to coincide.
Gifford Pinchot built up the National Forest System despite the hostility of Western senators and representatives, who feared that the national forests would be closed to local commodity users. But by 1950, the agency was dominated by foresters who were perfectly happy to sell timber at prices attractive to the industry. The sales might require different harvest methods or cutting rates than the industry would use on its own land, but the prices were adjusted to compensate.
The Congressional committees that dealt with the Forest Service were dominated by Western members who were pleased at the jobs created in their districts by national forest timber sales. And with rising timber prices, private landowners could live with Forest Service timber sales, which they could not do during the 1920s and '30s.
So Congress, the Forest Service, and the industry had an unspoken agreement. Congress would give the Forest Service money for timber sales. The Forest Service would crank out the sales. The industry would buy them. Part of the agreement was that the Forest Service would sell just as much timber during recessions as boom periods. This would reduce revenue but would maintain community stability by keeping the mills--and the national forests--going.
The unspoken agreement was overt enough that it would sometimes lead to subterfuge. To balance his budget, the president would sometimes cut the Forest Service's request for timber sale dollars. As a loyal employee of the president, the Chief of the Forest Service was not allowed to tell Congress how much he had originally requested.
The Chief and Congress worked around that by having the appropriations committee chair routinely ask the Chief, "What could you do if we gave you more money than the budget asks for?" As a result, the Forest Service routinely received an average of 99 to 100 percent of its original requests for timber sales--even when those requests had been pared by 20 percent or more by the president's budget office. By comparison, funding for recreation, wildlife, and other resources were routinely 20 to 30 percent lower than the agency's original requests.
Congress' bias towards timber helped shape the agency's preferences. But the Forest Service was especially attracted to timber by a legal provision allowing it to keep an unlimited share of timber receipts for reforestation and other local forest activities. Thus, with timber, the Forest Service won twice: Once when Congress gave it funding, and a second time when it collected payments from timber purchasers.
All during this period--the late 1940s through 1980--Congress never had to give the Forest Service targets for timber sales. Because of their common interests, Congress could rely on the Forest Service to sell as much timber as it could provided funding was available.
Not everyone was pleased by this arrangement. In the 1930s, preservation advocates inside and outside the agency had convinced the Forest Service to dedicate millions of acres of national forest land to wilderness. In the late 1940s and 1950s, the Forest Service began declassifying many of these areas to gain access to the timber.
In 1947, the Wilderness Society began pushing for a legislative solution: Congress would designate wilderness, so the Forest Service could not administratively declassify it. The resulting Wilderness Act was finally passed in 1964.
Another conflict resulted over clearcutting. Gifford Pinchot originally opposed clearcutting, and through the 1930s the Forest Service propagandized its "sound" timber practices in comparison to the "improper" clearcutting practices on private land.
Clearcutting is ugly, it sometimes increases runoff and streambank erosion, and it is inhospitable to some species of wildlife. But from a strictly timber view, clearcutting reduced sale preparation costs, which meant that Congressional dollars could be stretched as far as possible.
Clearcutting did often impose higher reforestation costs--especially on the marginal lands that typified the national forests. For the Forest Service, however, that was a feature, not a bug: Since reforestation was paid out of timber receipts, any practice that increased reforestation costs enhanced the agency's budget without going through Congressional appropriations.
During the 1960s, wilderness advocates and clearcutting opponents put the Forest Service through several traumas. The agency responded in part by hiring a number of "ologists"--biologists, hydrologists, and so forth--to work in the national forests. In the early 1970s it also embraced public involvement and planning under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
But in 1975 the Forest Service was pretty much the same as it had been when Kaufman examined it. The people in charge were still mostly foresters. Communications were still vertical, and the research stations were diverse but still disinclined to interfere with the national forests.
In 1975, fresh out of forestry school, I began studying forest practices on the Mt. Hood National Forest. At the time, John McGuire was the Chief of the Forest Service, Ted Schlapfer was the Region 6 (Oregon and Washington) Regional Forester, and the supervisor of the Mt. Hood Forest was a young man named Dale Robertson. The Chief, regional foresters, forest supervisors, and district rangers were the "line officers" who ran the Forest Service.
These men were overseeing the highest levels of timber cutting ever imposed on the national forests. Yet they saw themselves as people of integrity following the centrist position originally staked out by Gifford Pinchot many years before. If environmentalists worried that the forests were being overcut, the industry was pressuring the agency to cut more.
The 1960 Multiple-Use Sustained-Yield Act had directed the Forest Service to manage timber and other resources on a sustained yield basis. But not everyone agreed on the definition of sustained yield. In 1973, John McGuire issued an emergency directive stating that, as far as the Forest Service was concerned, sustained yield meant "nondeclining even flow." In other words, no forest could plan to sell more timber today than it would be able to sell in the future.
This policy played on Congressional desires for more timber cutting. On a forest mostly stocked with voluminous old-growth trees, the rate of cutting under nondeclining flow was limited by how fast second-growth trees were growing. With nondeclining flow, the Forest Service could tell Congress that it could produce more timber only if it had more money--not just for sale preparation but for thinnings, seedling nurseries, fertilizers, herbicides, and other growth-enhancing activities. Before nondeclining flow, Congress had historically cut the budgets for these activities just as it did for recreation and wildlife.
On this point the interests of the agency and the timber industry failed to coincide, and the industry fought the nondeclining flow directive for years. From a pure financial viewpoint, ignoring all nontimber resources, the industry was right: The owner of an old-growth forest who practiced nondeclining flow would lose a lot of timber and income.
Few worried about the nontimber resources: As late as the mid-1970s, most ecologists and wildlife biologists believed that old-growth forests were biological deserts. While McGuire expected to eventually cut all the old growth, he chose to spread it out over as long a time as possible.
As I tried to participate in this debate on behalf of environmentalists, I caught a few glimpses of McGuire, Schlapfer, and Robertson in action. My first research on the Mt. Hood Forest looked at reforestation. Like most Cascade Mountain forests, most of the Mt. Hood's timber was low-elevation--under 3,000 feet--Douglas-fir, with long growing seasons and moderate temperatures. This made reforestation easy.
A smaller share of the forest's timber was above 3,000 feet, and these forests were dominated not by Douglas-fir but by Pacific silver fir and mountain hemlock. The growing season was shorter and temperatures colder. I suspected that reforestation was more difficult, so I counted seedlings in some 75 different clearcuts. I concluded that there were problems above 3,000 feet and major problems above 4,000 feet.
After I published my report in 1976, Dale Robertson called me to say he was directing his staff to look into the matter. I then joined his silviculturalist in visiting some of the clearcuts. The silviculturalist told me that he had visited many of the clearcuts in my report and concluded that, while he didn't think the problems were as bad as I indicated, the problems did exist. I had urged shelterwood cutting, but he hoped that smaller clearcuts would solve the problem.
In the long run, I was less impressed with the actual details than by the fact that Dale Robertson had personally taken the time to look into the matter. He had a reputation as a "new forester," someone who would work with the public instead of brusquely dismiss them, as Forest Service officials had sometimes done during the 1960s. When Robertson later transferred to Washington, DC, Oregon environmentalists called him the "golden boy," a man who might someday be chief.
Meanwhile, environmental lawsuits back east had brought the Forest Service's clearcutting practices into question. In 1976, Congress was debating the National Forest Management Act (NFMA) to resolve this dispute. John McGuire's nondeclining flow policy was one of the items of the debate.
In Oregon, the timber industry marshalled its forces in support of "departures" from nondeclining flow. One of its major guns was the Oregon State Board of Forestry, which by law was dominated by industry representatives and their allies such as county commissioners, ranchers, and labor. As Congress debated NFMA, the board put together its "Forestry Program for Oregon," calling for the national forests to depart from nondeclining flow to make up for a shortfall in industry harvests. By the time the national forests ran out of old growth, the program projected that industry second growth would be available to cut.
I happened to meet John McGuire while the board was working on its program and asked him how he felt about it. "What guarantee does the industry offer that it will have timber to cut when we run out?" he asked. That was the nub of the matter, for which the industry had no good response. As one industry representative stated at a board meeting, the industry believed that the Forest Service had an obligation to cut as much timber as needed to protect community stability, but private landowners had no such obligation.
As Regional Forester, Ted Schlapfer was, by law, a de facto but nonvoting member of the Board of Forestry. While the plan was being prepared I attended all of the board meetings and watched to see if he would represent McGuire's point of view. But he remained silent while Congress was debating nondeclining flow.
That debate was the most contentious part of NFMA. While the industry vowed to kill nondeclining flow, environmental lobbyist Brock Evans promised that "nondeclining flow is the one thing we will never give up."
Oregon's Senator Mark Hatfield represented the industry view while Oregon's Representative Jim Weaver pressed the environmental view. But curiously, it was the senate bill that contained the nondeclining flow provision, while the house bill did not. Senator Hubert Humphrey, who introduced the original bill, was taking a middle-of-the-road position--which, to him, was the Forest Service position.
The conference committee agreed to include nondeclining flow in the final law with certain exceptions, and Mark Hatfield went away satisfied. But when Humphrey presented the compromise language on the floor of the Senate, Hatfield realized that the final wording did not do what he wanted. Humphrey's bill allowed exemptions from nondeclining flow only to "meet overall multiple-use objectives"--and community stability was not a multiple use. Hatfield then engaged Humphrey in a famous colloquy on the Senate floor during which, with some difficulty, he got Humphrey to say that the new wording would legalize departures for community stability.
The Oregon Board of Forestry met the very next day to put the finishing touches on its program. But the industry representatives were stunned when Regional Forester Schlapfer announced that the Forest Service would not follow the program by departing from nondeclining flow. "The new law states that we can only depart for multiple-use purposes," he stated firmly, "and community stability is not a multiple use."
An agitated industry representative pointed out that the Hatfield-Humphrey colloquy seemed to authorize such departures. "I'm sorry," said Schlapfer, "we don't read that into the law." This put the board into an uproar.
"Just because some senators were stupid doesn't mean you have to be," blurted out one industry leader. "I hope when you consider multiple use you wait until the trees are gone first!"
Despite Schlapfer's earlier silence, I found myself admiring him for standing up to the rest of the board. In hindsight, I realize that Schlapfer had probably reported the board's doings to McGuire, and McGuire worked with Humphrey to keep the law as restrictive as possible. If Schlapfer had spoken too soon, the industry might have gotten wind of the Forest Service's opposition and made sure that Humphrey's language was less restrictive.
I caught another glimpse of McGuire's attitudes when I saw him again in 1980. Although he had retired in 1979, he was visiting with national forest interest groups to discuss issues. Just before our meeting, President Carter had announced that he was directing the Forest Service to sell a billion board feet more timber each year. Increasing timber supplies, said Carter's economist, Albert Kahn, would reduce housing prices and thereby reduce inflation.
I asked McGuire what the Forest Service was going to do about the order. "Carter only directed us to study an increase in timber sales," he replied, with a twinkle in his eye. "We'll study it--but don't expect it to happen." It didn't.
The point of all of these stories is that the people running the Forest Service in the 1970s were intelligent, friendly, and highly principled. If their principles weren't identical to mine, they also weren't identical to those of the timber industry. Yet at the same time, the agency was selling record volumes of timber, requiring much clearcutting, road construction, and wilderness destruction.
If McGuire, Schlapfer, and Robertson were likable, Schlapfer's retirement in 1977 gave environmentalists a better target. The Forest Service replaced him with Richard Worthington, who soon became, for Northwest environmentalists like myself, the epitomé of a Forest Service "timber beast."
Worthington was physically imposing--I liked to say he was six feet six inches tall and six feet six inches in circumference at breast height, but both were slight exaggerations. He had come up through the timber ranks, having directed Region 6's timber program in a era when people said that the "real chief of the Forest Service is the director of timber management in Region 6."
Worthington made an effort to be friendly, giving speeches at environmental conferences and getting to know the names of environmental leaders. But he was no Dale Robertson. His biases showed in a speech to a timber industry association when he compared growing trees on long rotations to eating apples only after they were rotten. His decisions routinely rejecting environmental appeals of timber sales were often overturned by the Chief's office.
In 1980, Andy Kerr, of the Oregon Natural Resources Council (then called the Oregon Wilderness Coalition) asked me to estimate how much cutting could be sustained from Oregon and Washington forests. By that time, I had followed up my Mt. Hood reforestation study with reviews of Forest Service timber yield tables, below-cost timber sales, and physical timber land suitability. Using these studies, I did a "back-of-the-envelope" calculation and concluded that sales should be reduced by about half. We didn't imagine that it would happen very soon.
In 1981, President Reagan appointed Louisana-Pacific executive John Crowell to be assistant secretary of agriculture in charge of the Forest Service. Crowell immediately announced that he thought he could double national forest timber sales.
Soon after that, in 1982, Dick Worthington retired and was replaced by Jeff Sirmon, who had been regional forester in the Intermountain Region: Utah, Nevada, southern Idaho, and western Wyoming. These weren't exactly big timber states, and word got around that Sirmon, who was a native of the South, had never worked on a big timber forest.
MacCleery told planners that he was a "process" person, less interested in the actual decisions than in making sure that the plans complied with the law. But planners suspected that there was a pattern in MacCleery's reviews: A plan that proposed to increase timber sales seemed to sail by him, but plans that proposed to reduce timber sales were closely scrutinized and often returned for revision. Since planners were rewarded--sometimes with cash bonuses--for meeting deadlines, this could inhibit them from finding reasons to reduce sale levels.
In the meantime, Jeff Sirmon was settling into his new job. Region 6's offices were in a former hotel that looks like some kind of armory or citadel. I visited those offices to meet Sirmon shortly after he took the position--and was not impressed.
I had been engaged in a running debate with Forest Service economists over whether planners should do a particular economic calculation known as "soil expectation value." Despite its name, the calculation dealt not with soils but whether tree growing made money. I was hoping that the new regional forester would listen to my side.
Several environmentalists were with me at a meeting with several Forest Service economists and planners. Sirmon came in and introduced himself. Unlike Worthington, he didn't fit our stereotype of a timber beast. In fact, he was about my size--around five foot seven--with distinguished-looking grey hair and a mustasche. Encouraged, I presented the case for calculating soil expectation value.
Although Sirmon had worked several years in Utah, he retained a Southern accent that was so thick that I couldn't understand all of his response. I was glad to hear him say that he wanted his people to work with us, but I was puzzled when he said we should get some "sols people" into the meeting.
He then left for another meeting before I was able to figure out that he didn't understand my reference to "soil expectation value": He thought we needed the help of some soils people.
Before I had time to reflect that I had completely failed to get my point across, I was stunned to hear Carl Wilson, the Region 6 director of planning, announce that, no matter what Sirmon said about working with us, there was no way that forest planners were going to calculate soil expectation value. I angrily stormed out of the meeting, leaving my friends to deal with other issues.
So this wasn't an auspicious first meeting. Yet within a week we learned that Carl Wilson, the planning director, was being kicked upstairs. Had Sirmon heard about how Wilson had betrayed the regional forester's intentions? We didn't know, but we continued to hear some interesting stories about the going-ons in the Region 6 citadel.
While Worthington was gone, he was still represented in spirit by Jack Usher, who had taken Worthington's place as Region 6's director of timber management. Like Worthington, he was huge and perfectly fit our image of a timber beast. The story we heard was that he was talking to someone in a Region 6 corridor shortly after Sirmon had arrived.
"That little shrimp is going to find out who is boss around here pretty soon," he predicted, no doubt referring to the old story that the person in his job was the real chief of the Forest Service. He then turned around to see the "little shrimp" standing right behind him. Sirmon just walked away. But Usher soon retired and the region gained a new director of timber management.
The story might have been apocryphal, but it seemed to signal that the Region 6 timber director could no longer claim ascendancy over the rest of the Forest Service. National forest and regional staffs were increasingly infiltrated by "ologists," people with backgrounds in fields other than forestry. A few wildlife biologists had been promoted to district ranger and even, in one case, forest supervisor.
The Forest Service of 1981 was no longer the unified agency studied by Herb Kaufman in the late 1950s, and it showed in the tensions over planning and timber. Environmentalists often won appeals of timber sales using data and memos provided by Forest Service ologists. A growing number of people within the agency, even including some foresters, questioned whether the forests could truly sustain historic levels of timber sales.
Theoretically, these questions would be resolved in the planning process created by NFMA. But the plans were written in the forest supervisors offices, and many working on the ground in the ranger districts complained that planners didn't listen to them. Instead, the planners were focused on the timber targets given to them by the regions, which in turn received their targets from Washington. The targets had been set by the Forest Service, not Congress, and they were not supposed to be firm. Yet many plans just happened to select as "preferred" the alternative that met them.
Region 6's nineteen forests originally expected to publish most of their draft and nearly half of their final forest plans by the end of 1982. But 1982 saw only one draft published. This was at least in part due to Doug MacCleery, who was getting fed up with the quality of the plans he was reviewing. He knew that his boss, John Crowell, placed most of his hopes for increasing timber sales in Region 6, yet the plans for those forests mostly stuck with the status quo. While they met their targets, they didn't do any more--and Crowell wanted much more.
What got MacCleery upset was that the plans didn't even seriously evaluate the possibility of selling more. "The decisions were made before the plans were written," he says, "and planners didn't seriously look at alternatives." In January, 1983, MacCleery wrote an angry memo to the chief and sent it out over Crowell's name. (He was embarrassed when the chief returned it because MacCleery had forgotten to get Crowell's signature.) The memo castigated planners for not preparing alternatives that departed from nondeclining flow or increased timber sales in other ways--alternatives that planners regarded as illegal.
The memo's penultimate paragraph warned that the regional foresters should produce better plans or "appropriate changes will be made." The Forest Service, and Jeff Sirmon in particular, read this as a threat that the administration would replace regional foresters with political appointees if they didn't come up with plans that pleased Crowell and MacCleery.
If this was really MacCleery's intention--and he denies it--he had three strikes against him. First was the increasing number of ologists. While they were far from dominant, their voices were heard throughout the agency, and what they said caused many of the foresters to think.
The ologists' views were reinforced by an environmental lawsuit that had completely shut down the timber program for a major ranger district in western Oregon. The Mapleton District had been selling over 100 million board feet per year even though it knew that clearcutting on its steep slopes inevitably led to landslides that wiped out miles of fish habitat.
When the National Wildlife Federation successfully sued to stop the habitat destruction, the district ranger saw his staff shrink from dozens of people to just a handful. The ranger himself ended up working on timber sales in a Utah forest that cut less than 10 percent of the timber that the Mapleton had been cutting.
This gave the foresters extra pause for consideration. At the least, they agreed with the ologists that planning should be from the ground up, not from the top down. At best, they realized that they were better off selling a limited amount of timber than pushing the limits, which might lead to getting shut down by an environmental lawsuit followed by a transfer to the Forest Service equivalent of Siberia.
The second strike was the economy: Even as Crowell was thumping for more national forest timber sales, the timber industry was suffering its biggest downturn since the Great Depression. While timber companies didn't mind buying new sales at cheap prices, they weren't about to cut the timber they had bought at high prices in the late 1970s.
With no trees being cut, the Forest Service had no road construction to supervise, no brush piles to burn, no clearcuts to reforest. More important, since about a quarter of the national forest budget comes out of timber receipts, the Forest Service had no money to pay a lot of the people on its staff. Region 6 had to let go of thousands of loyal employees.
Many foresters felt betrayed by the timber industry. They believed in the unspoken bargain between the Forest Service and the industry: that the national forests would sell timber cheap when the market was down and the industry would cut that cheap wood to keep communities--and the Forest Service--going during recessions.
But in the late 1970s, the industry had been infiltrated by speculators who took advantage of lax Forest Service sale policies and drove the price of national forest timber so high that, when the recession came, no one could afford to cut it. As a result, communities suffered high unemployment, the Forest Service riffed its people, and the timber beasts who remained felt little desire to please the industry.
The third strike was the Forest Service's proud tradition of maintaining its independence from whatever administration happened to be in power. Does Jimmy Carter want to be a "wilderness" president? Then appoint a timber beast as Region 6 Regional Forester. Does the president want more timber cut? Okay, we'll "study it."
No chief of the Forest Service, much less a regional forester, had been fired since Gifford Pinchot was relieved by William Howard Taft. Since Pinchot's dismissal helped cause Taft to lose the next election, presidents ever since regarded the chief's job as even more sacrosanct than that of the head of the FBI--and Reagan was no exception.
So when Jeff Sirmon suspected that someone was threatening his job, knuckling under was not an option. Instead, he went to his ologists and his timber beasts and said, in effect, "You think we're cutting too much? Then document it so well that Crowell and MacCleery can't poke any holes in it." In effect, Sirmon shifted the burden of proof from those who wanted to reduce timber cutting to those who wanted to maintain it. To extend this across the region, he told his planners to redo every plan from scratch, including the draft that had been published and several more that were at the printers.
As publisher of Forest Planning magazine, I tried to keep tabs on everything that was going on by reading memos and other paperwork. But I sensed Sirmon's changes more in the attitudes of Forest Service employees than in any written document.
For example, when Dick Worthington was regional forester, the regional head of timber planning was a man named Al Lampe, who greeted with scowls my visits to his office and who provided the data I was always after with reluctance if at all. Lampe later worked in the Washington office as a planning specialist, and even then never looked happy to see me.
Then one day I saw him in Portland, and his face broke out into a big smile. He was now Region 6's director of planning, and he told me that "Jeff wants me to work with you in whatever way I can." I was too flabbergasted to know what to say.
Several months later, I had gotten to know Lampe well enough to ask him what had brought about this transformation. After thinking about it for awhile, he told me this story.
He had often told friends that he would never work in Washington, DC. After he had spent two years there, he hated it more than ever. So he applied for a position that had opened in Denver. When his boss found out, he talked Lampe into withdrawing the application.
"When you decide to move somewhere else," his boss said, "make sure that it is to a place that you want to spend the rest of your life." Lampe didn't say so, but the message was clear: His next job in the Forest Service would also be his last one.
Lampe and his wife decided that they wanted to spend the rest of their lives near Mt. Hood. So his wife found a job in the area, they bought land, built a house, and reserved a moving van. Then he told his boss that he was moving. He neither applied for nor expected a new position.
His boss's jaw dropped when Lampe gave him the news. But the Forest Service takes care of its own. Jobs were reshuffled in Portland, and Lampe was the new director of Region 6 planning.
When Lampe told me this story, I realized that the previous planning director had not been kicked upstairs because of our meeting with Jeff Sirmon. Instead, it was to make room for Al Lampe, a loyal Forest Service employee who was tired of being stuck in DC.
But I also remembered something once told me by Bob Chadwick, former supervisor of the Winema National Forest. "There comes a time in the careers of nearly all Forest Service employees when they realize that they are not going to be chief," said Chadwick. "That is a depressing time, but it is also a liberating time because it means that you can follow your conscience instead of the dictates of the bureaucracy."
Al Lampe was liberated by his move to Portland. But it wasn't just him: Everyone in Region 6, it seemed, was liberated by Jeff Sirmon's defiance of Crowell and MacCleery. "Okay," they said, "we'll never get to be chief, but now we can do what we believe is right."
As the new plans were being prepared, information about them leaked out to forest activists. Plan after plan, it seemed, proposed to significantly reduce timber sales. While nothing was final, many forests calculated that the most timber they could legally produce--the so-called "timber max" computer run that ignored many other resource values--was significantly less than they had sold in the past.
As Sirmon requested, the ologists did their best to provide indisputable documentation that timber sales should go down. The timber beasts not only worked with them, but they found the biggest reasons to reduce sales: reforestation problems, exaggerated timber yield tables, land that was physically unsuitable due to rockiness or other reasons. The same reasons, with the exception of below-cost sales, that I had discussed with Andy Kerr several years before.
One day I met Al Burkhardt, who had replaced Lampe as the Region 6 director of timber planning, outside the Region 6 citadel. Burkhardt had often helped me in the past, but like Lampe he always seemed a bit grudging about it. But today he had a big smile.
"Why are you so happy?" I asked.
"We just got word from the chief that our timber targets have been reduced," he said. "It really takes the pressure off."
The Forest Service's results weren't very far off of my estimate that sales should decline by 50 percent. Region 6's allowable sale level had been about 5.5 billion board feet per year. The new plans would reduce this to just under 3.0 billion. Many forests rarely sold their full allowable level, so actual sales would be even lower.
Jeff Sirmon did his best to prepare the public for the change. He believed in community involvement, and he presented a slide show on why sales had to be reduced to the newspapers, the board of forestry (no longer dominated by the industry), and anyone else who would listen. With a shrinking percentage of the Northwest economy dependent on timber, he quickly had many people on his side.
Of course, the timber industry was far from pleased. It did everything it could to stop the reductions, including appealing the plans before they were even published--something that environmentalists had never thought of. While the appeals didn't stop the plans, they delayed them long enough for the Forest Service to go back one more time and make sure that the plans were airtight.
When Sirmon was promoted to the Washington office in 1986--whether as reward or punishment, we didn't know--his replacement, Jim Torrence, turned out to be as rabid for reducing sales as Sirmon was. Torrence had been Worthington's deputy, so environmentalists didn't expect much from him. Yet he eventually got so fed up with industry efforts to stop or delay the plans that he retired from the Forest Service and went to the press to explain in gory detail that the Forest Service was overcutting.
He was joined by Max Peterson, who had replaced John McGuire as chief in 1979. Environmentalists never really knew what to think of Peterson, who worked under the shadow of the Reagan administration during most of his term. But after he retired in 1987, he publicly announced that the Forest Service was overcutting. "Anyone on the back of an envelope could figure out that the national forests are cutting too much timber," he told reporters.
Jeff Sirmon's new job was deputy chief in charge of programs and legislation. He may have thought, as Northwest environmentalists did, that he was in line to be chief. But when Max Peterson retired, he named Dale Robertson as his replacement. Since Robertson was years younger than Sirmon, everyone could see that Sirmon would never be chief. Robertson's appointment, in fact, "liberated" many officials in Washington, most of whom quickly transferred to somewhere else. But Sirmon stayed.
By 1987, the question for the industry was not whether they could prevent reductions in timber sales but how long they could delay them. Although Crowell left office in 1985, MacCleery stayed through 1987. Since he was committed to process, and the plans were so well documented, he eventually had to let them go through.
Even after the plans were finished, Region 6 officials weren't happy. Congress, upset with the Forest Service's reluctance to "get out the cut," began including timber targets in the annual appropriations legislation. Congress couldn't do much if the targets weren't met--after all, cutting forest budgets as punishment would only guarantee that the targets wouldn't be met the next year either. Yet some Forest Service officials took those targets seriously and used them to evaluate employees and line officers.
In 1989, Region 6 forest supervisors--most of whom were foresters, not ologists--sent a videotape to the chief saying that national forest programs were out of balance. "It's time to reconsider [our] program emphasis and round out multiple use," said the video.
Titled Up from the Ground--a reference to both the transmittal of a message from bottom to top and to the preference for planning from the ground up rather than from the top down--the video featured several forest supervisors. Many considered Robert Devlin, then supervisor of the Umpqua National Forest, to be a traditional timber beast. Yet he told the chief--and everyone else who saw the video--that timber targets were too high.
"I understand why the targets are emphasized," he said, "and how those targets generate dollars." But he couldn't meet his targets and still protect other resources. Unless the targets were reduced or eliminated, "I can't be the steward of the public lands that you depend on me to be."
By 1989, Forest Service reinvention--some were calling it revolt--had spread beyond Region 6. Forest supervisors from California and Alaska signed onto the Region 6 video. And supervisors from every forest in the Rocky Mountains signed a letter saying that "our ASQs [annual sale quantities] are unrealistic even with full funding."
Chief Robertson accepted the revolt with equanimity, encouraging local innovation and emphasizing that resource protection came before targets. But his years in Washington seemed to have cost him the charisma he had as Mt. Hood Forest Supervisor. It didn't help when he seemed to freeze on ABC's Primetime in response to a question about the memos from the forest supervisors. Forest Service employees felt that he should at least provide a more inspiring image, and at best he might have convinced Congress to stop imposing targets.
That might have been an impossible job for any chief. At hearing after hearing, members of Congress hammered the chief for not getting the cut out. "Nine questions out of ten dealt with selling more timber," remembers one Forest Service staffer, "and the tenth question probably dealt with grazing more livestock."
Robertson was criticized for transferring Region 1 (Montana and northern Idaho) Regional Forester John Mumma, allegedly because Mumma failed to get out the cut. Rather than take the transfer, Mumma resigned with great fanfare. But regional foresters get transferred all the time, and I suspect Mumma was transferred less because he failed to get out the cut than because he failed to do the sales job Sirmon had done about why sales should be reduced.
Right after Robertson took the chief's job, I saw Sirmon in DC and asked him how he was doing. His face fell and he looked very unhappy. Later he became enthused about directing the Forest Service's fledgling International Forestry program, from which he recently retired. But his crowning achievement was the time he stood up to the combined strength of the Reagan administration and the timber industy--and won.
Before 1975, the vast majority of Forest Service employees had grown up in rural areas. They hunted and fished and were attracted to forestry because they liked the outdoors. Being used to timber cutting and grazing, they saw nothing wrong with commodity exploitation of the national forests.
That was all changed by Earth Day, 1970, which attracted a horde of young urbanites to forestry and other outdoor professions. The populations of forestry schools swelled with students more interested in saving trees than cutting them.
I was in the first graduating class that had been inspired by Earth Day to go to forestry school, and I remember that many of my fellow students were skeptical of "high yield forestry" and other slogans of industrial and government foresters. I never worked for the Forest Service, but after 1974 an increasing number of new recruits to the agency held primarily urban rather than rural values.
Normally, it would takes years for new people with different values to have any influence on a large bureaucracy, particularly because bureaucracies tend to weed out people who don't fit into their culture. But in the early 1980s, something happened that suddenly gave new employees enormous power that they never before had: The Forest Service bought a computer. Or, more particularly, it bought hundreds of computers, tieing all of its offices together with an extensive electronic mail (email) system.
The Data General ("DG") minicomputers installed by the Forest Service were fantastically expensive by today's standards and lacked many capabilities, especially graphic ones, that computer users now consider minimal. But they gave nearly every Forest Service employee the power to communicate with any other employee via email.
In this way, the DG promoted decentralization as it created whole new lines of communication throughout the agency. For the first time, routine communications could be not just vertical but horizontal, as someone in a forest supervisor's office in Durango, Colorado, could write to someone in the Milwaukee, Wisconsin, regional office, who could forward the message to someone in the Blue River, Oregon district office, who could send a memo directly to the Chief.
This may seem obvious today, but no one understood it in the early 1980s when the system was installed. The RAND Corporation studied the Forest Service computer system and predicted that it would lead to more centralization as it gave agency leaders the ability to monitor and control people in the field. So much for prognostication.
One of email's features was that it allowed employees to make mailing lists of any number of other employees and, with one command, send a memo to everyone on the list. Suddenly, ologists and dissidents were no longer limited to communicating with people in their own offices or their direct superiors. Now they could gain support from like-minded people throughout the agency.
The most famous email ever to go over the DG was a letter from an on-the-ground Forest Service employee to Chief Dale Robertson. The employee was Jeff DeBonis, who laid out timber sales on the Blue River Ranger District, near Eugene, Oregon. DeBonis perfectly fit the profile of a "new forester": urban (Massachusetts) background, influenced by environmental writers such as Rachel Carson and Aldo Leopold, and holding environmental values that he called "ethics."
DeBonis found himself marking some of Oregon's last major old-growth forests for sale, and he didn't like it. His letter to the Chief protested the continuing sales of such timber. Using the DG, he sent copies of the letter to friends. The friends sent it to their friends, who sent it to other friends, and within a few days everyone in the Forest Service had a copy.
The flurry of publicity surrounding the letter plus the many encouraging responses DeBonis received over the DG led him to start the Association of Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics (AFSEEE). In many ways, AFSEEE has become the conscience of the Forest Service as well as a voice for all of the new foresters who may not hold top ranking positions within the agency.
DeBonis' impressive organizing skills and speaking abilities led to AFSEEE's rapid growth. But it could never have started without the DG. In a sense, AFSEEE was the first national forest interest group ever to be started by a computer.
Almost any organization, from a federal agency to an environmental group, would probably try to suppress the use of its hardware by people who were essentially subversives. To its credit, the Forest Service made no such effort. Chief Dale Robertson made it clear when he received DeBonis' memo that the Forest Service considered free use of email by its employees to be a part of the democratic process. The main restriction was that outside groups were given only limited access to the DG.
The DG, then, empowered people who had previously felt isolated. When they found that they were not only not alone, but that they constituted a large share of the Forest Service workforce--though perhaps not its line officers--they redoubled their efforts to promote change within the agency. Their success can be seen in annual sale levels in Oregon and Washington forests.
In the early 1970s, most wildlife biologists believed that clearcutting was good for wildlife, especially if it were done in small patches--no more than 40 acres or so. The scientists had noted that many species of wildlife spent most of their time near the "edge" between two plant communities, such as a clearcut and a forest. Small patchcuts would maximize the amount of edge and therefore maximize wildlife.
Biologists also believed that old-growth forests were "biological deserts." This was based on research in Oregon's coastal mountains that found an abundance of vegetation and wildlife in clearcuts, but very little in older forests.
One man who questioned this notion was Jerry Franklin, a forest ecologist who worked in the Forest Service's research lab near Oregon State University in Corvallis. A prolific researcher, he had spent years tramping around the forests of western Oregon and Washington, turning out reports on plant communities, silviculture, growth rates, reforestation, and natural areas.
But Franklin was a scientist, and scientists don't get involved in politics. Environmentalists considered him a bit unapproachable. He was certainly willing to answer questions, but he wouldn't take a stand on issues relating to wilderness or old-growth preservation.
Things began to change in the mid-1970s, when an Oregon State University graduate student named Eric Forsman began studying the spotted owl. Forsman's master's thesis concluded that the spotted owl spent almost its entire life in old-growth forests. While a spotted owl could live in second-growth forest, for some reason it needed old growth to successfully breed.
The story went around that Forsman took his data straight to Dick Worthington. The Forest Service would have to stop cutting old-growth timber, said Forsman, or the spotted owl would go extinct. Worthington, according to the story, dismissed the idea. So Forsman, accepting the fact that the spotted owl was going to go extinct, went back to his research while he had a chance. After all, scientists don't get involved in politics.
Glen Juday was a scientist who was a little more willing than the rest to get involved in politics. Like Franklin and Forsman, he was studying old-growth forests. But he was also active in environmental groups such as the Oregon Wilderness Coalition, the forerunner of the Oregon Natural Resources Council. Juday often gave lectures at environmental meetings about the importance of wilderness for scientific research.
In 1977, Juday convinced a number of other researchers--most of them in Corvallis--to hold a work session on old-growth forests. Franklin was there, as were people from a wide variety of disciplines: botany, ecology, fisheries, wildlife, geology. They quickly realized that all their studies were pointing to the enormous role old-growth forests played in Northwest ecosystems.
* Jim Sedell, a fisheries biologist, had found that the large logs found only in old-growth forests created pools critical for the survival of numerous fish species;
* William Denison, a botanist, had found that old-growth trees were the only habitat for a species of lichen that fixed nitrogen and thus helped maintain soil fertility;
* Fred Swanson, a geologist, had found that streams through old-growth forests were cleaner than streams through younger forests;
* Mycologist Kermit Cromack and wildlife biologist Chris Maser had found that flying squirrels that live only in old-growth forests help spread the spores of a fungus that formed essential symbiotic relationships with Douglas-fir and other trees.
The list went on. In isolation, none of these findings seemed too important. But together, they made it appear that old-growth forests were the foundation of all Northwest ecosystems.
So why did people once label old-growth forests "biological deserts"? It turned out that the original research on which that conclusion was based was done in "mature" forests--forests of trees between 100 and 200 years old--not true "old growth," which Douglas-fir forests reach when the trees are 200 to 300 years old. Douglas-fir forests have a high natural diversity when they are under 100 years or over 200, but in between they are nearly deserts.
The work session convinced Franklin and the other scientists that they should work together on old growth. Four years later, and apparently after some controversy within the Forest Service, the research station published a seminal paper titled Ecological Characteristics of Old-Growth Douglas-Fir Forests. The paper had eight authors, including Franklin, Juday, and the five scientists listed above.
In the meantime, Forsman's work was also getting more attention. Whatever Worthington's initial reaction, the Forest Service realized that there was a law called the Endangered Species Act. Biologists convinced the agency that it would be better off if the spotted owl were kept off the endangered species list. That meant that at least some protection efforts were needed.
So Worthington agreed to set aside 500 spotted owl areas of 300 acres each, for a total of 150,000 acres. These numbers were based on the estimate of conservation biologists that a viable species required 500 mating pairs and on Forsman's initial research indicating that spotted owls needed about 300 acres of old growth per pair.
Those numbers quickly became obsolete as Forsman continued his studies. His Ph.D. thesis tracked six radiocollared pairs of owls to see how much old-growth they used. He concluded that owls needed at least 1,000 acres per pair.
Forest planners also found that less than two-thirds of the patches of old growth that they had set aside for spotted owls were used by pairs of owls each season. The owls apparently shifted their nest sites after every season or so, leaving a third to half unoccupied on a sort of rest-rotation basis. Given the percentage found occupied, the owls needed a total of 866 areas, planners estimated, to maintain 500 pairs.
The stakes for protecting spotted owls were rising fast. From 150,000 acres they grew to 866,000 acres. But that was only the beginning.
A Eugene environmentalist noted that Forsman's research paper concluding that owls needed 1,000 acres of old growth per pair never actually stated how many acres were used by each of the six pairs Forsman studied. The Lane County Audubon Society wrote a letter to Forsman and Charles Meslow, his co-author and major professor, asking for the data.
They responded that only one of the pairs studied used 1,000 acres of old growth. All of the rest used more than 2,000 acres, and one used nearly 3,800 acres. The average was 2,200 acres. The response hinted that they hadn't reported this before because they figured that no more than 1,000 acres could be saved per pair.
Other researchers soon reported that spotted owls in Washington used even more acres--up to 4,600 in the north Cascades. Owls in California didn't need as many. Possibly food was more abundant in the south, less in the north.
The Forest Service agreed to set aside 2,200 acres per pair for 866 pairs--a total of 1.9 million acres, or nearly 13 times as much as Worthington's original plan.
The increasing number of acres being withdrawn from the timber base met with surprisingly little resistance from national forest managers and line officers. Having convinced themselves in the early part of the 1980s that the national forests were being overcut, they welcomed the owl as one more way of taking the pressure off. As University of Washington forest economist Darius Adams noted when environmental lawsuits nearly shut down many forests' timber programs, the managers "seem happy not to sell any timber even though they know that most of them are going to lose their jobs."
This attitude filtered up to the top, with the result that Chief Robertson stoutly defended each new proposal to preserve old growth. When a committee of biologists led by Jack Ward Thomas proposed a new plan to preserve millions of acres of old growth and restrict management on other acres, the BLM, which also managed spotted owl habitat, agreed to the preserves but opposed the management restrictions. Robertson coolly sided with the ologists.
Attention was focused on the spotted owl because it was a well-studied species. But environmentalists realized that the owl was only a symbol for all of the other species that seemed to rely on old-growth. The 1981 paper by Franklin and the other scientists listed sixteen birds and mammals that found optimum habitat in old growth. As research accumulated, the list grew rapidly; it now includes over 180 species.
All of this attention put pressure on the scientists to break the rules and get involved in politics. For one thing, they believed in the goals of the Endangered Species Act. But they also worried that the focus on the spotted owl might leave some species behind. Would a plan tailored to the owl guarantee survival for the northern flying squirrel, silver-haired bat, or Townsend's warbler?
The first scientist to break ranks was Chris Maser. As a wildlife biologist, he had written many important papers on the role and needs of mammals in Northwest forests. But he was in a difficult position: Unlike Franklin, who was paid by the Forest Service, or several of the other scientists who worked for Oregon State University, Maser was an employee of the Bureau of Land Management.
The BLM was far more monolithic and less tolerant of dissent than the Forest Service. But its research budget was tiny, and though it paid Maser's paycheck he was really on loan to the Forest Service research station. This meant that Maser's career path was very short--he knew from the first day he took the job that he would "never be chief."
Maser had also spent several years in Nepal studying Asian forestry during the 1960s. Suddenly, he began combining eastern philosophy with western biology to advocate changes in forest management. He quickly became a sort of Jesse Jackson of forestry, with quick slogans for any situation: "As we think, so we manage"; "We are as free as our imaginations."
Right-brained environmentalists gave him standing ovations. His approach inspired many forest managers. But he quickly lost credibility among scientists.
Meanwhile, Jerry Franklin was having his own liberating experiences. Although Corvallis and Oregon State University had turned out nearly all of the significant research on old growth, he considered the atmosphere stifling--Oregon State, after all, is called by some the "Vatican of sawlog forestry."
So Franklin spent 1986 at Harvard University studying the new science of landscape ecology. When he returned to the Northwest he went not to Corvallis but to Seattle and the University of Washington. There he began telling people his ideas for a New Forestry, one that would allow production of timber while it protected old-growth dependent species like the spotted owl and flying squirrel.
Some wildlife did well with edges, he told people. Deer are the most common example, but many other species also thrived on the edges created by clearcutting. But such wildlife are in no danger of extinction because there are plenty of edges, both natural and created.
Many other species of wildlife--called "interior forest species"--need unbroken forests rather than edges. Although fewer in number, these were the species that were disappearing. Franklin suggested that what these species needed was not so much old-growth forests as large expanses of relatively undisturbed forests.
Franklin also recalled his investigations of the aftermath of the Mt. St. Helens eruption, which covered thousands of acres with volcanic ash. "We went in expecting the area to be lifeless except for seeds that had blown in from other areas," he said. "Instead, we found all sorts of plants growing from seeds that had been there before the eruption."
This gave Franklin the idea that forest managers should leave a "biological legacy" when they cut their timber. This could be standing live trees, standing dead trees, fallen logs, or some combination.
Two important components of the New Forestry, then, were biological legacies and the idea that large areas of forest should remain undisturbed. Franklin urged that timber cuttings be done in large--200 acres or more--units that, once reforested, would be left alone for many years. At the same time, some trees should be left behind. Once such forests had grown for 50 years or so, Franklin hoped that they would provide habitat for many of the species that were considered dependent on old growth.
Biologists use the term "fragmentation" to describe actions that chop an unbroken forest into small pieces. Ironically, the biggest forest fragmenter turned out to be the Forest Service: Where the industry tended to cut in large patches, the Forest Service cut areas of 80 acres or less. This was because of the prevailing wisdom of the 1970s, which said that wildlife needed edges and clearcuts should therefore be in small units. This wisdom had been incorporated into law by the Nationnal Forest Management Act.
Some of the biologists who had worked with Franklin on old growth were uncomfortable with these new ideas. Jack Ward Thomas, a wildlife biologist who had written a major plan to protect old growth for the spotted owl, complained that Franklin was changing the rules on him.
"Jerry told us that if you cut any trees from an old-growth forest, the whole ecosystem would fall apart, so we wrote that into the spotted owl plan," said Thomas. "Now he says that we can manage old growth for both timber and wildlife."
Franklin had an even greater falling out with environmentalists who wanted to preserve as much old growth as possible. By focusing on management, Franklin seemed to give up on the idea of preservation. When questioned, he would express an apparently political judgement that "we can't save enough, so we have to manage as much forest as we can for interior forest species."
Environmentalists like Andy Kerr questioned this judgement. "Why can't we save enough?" Kerr asked. "All Franklin has to do is say how much needs to be saved and Congress will save it." That's no longer true, of course. But the point is that it is one thing for scientists to give expert information to politicians; it is quite another thing for scientists to shape that information according to what they judge to be politically acceptable.
Franklin's most important credibility problem was that he seemed to give mixed messages. He may have given the same speech to every audience, but environmentalists heard one thing while the industry heard another.
Environmentalists heard him say that we should preserve all the old growth we have left plus manage all other forest land--public and private--using the New Forestry. Representatives of the timber industry, and foresters like John Beuter, who replaced Doug MacCleery in the Bush administration, heard a very different story. According to Beuter's understanding, New Forestry meant that the remaining old growth didn't have to be preserved; it could be managed on long rotations, while all other forests could be managed on standard timber rotations.
Despite these problems, Franklin managed to persuade many influential people of the value of New Forestry, including members of Congress, top Forest Service officials, and--perhaps most important--the ologists both in the national forests and in the research centers. "Jerry convinced us biologists to put aside our doubts so that we could present a united front," said one ecologist.
Like Maser before him, Franklin had gone political. Yet he didn't lose much of his credibility. He disarmed people with a folksy charm that contrasted sharply with Maser's guru-style. Besides, he said, "if you have to lose scientific credibility, you should do it for something as important as this."
The most interesting response to the New Forestry came from the timber beasts and line officers running the national forests. They embraced the New Forestry and were eager to apply it to forests not being preserved as old growth. This might have been a desperate grab for something to do at a time when all timber sales seemed to be coming to a halt. But in an important sense, it was actually something more: The "scientific foresters" who had been running the Forest Service since the days of Gifford Pinchot were, in effect, passing the baton to a new breed of scientific managers: the biologists.
The administration's biases were presaged by the president's April, 1993, forest conference. The conference featured two panels of interest groups and a panel of scientists--with Franklin seated on Al Gore's right. But no traditional foresters or line officers were on any of the panels. After the conference, Clinton gave the job of writing "his" plan to the ologists, led by Thomas and Franklin. The final plan protected about 7.5 million acres of old growth--fifty times as much as Worthington's original plan of 150,000 acres.
Although these changes have outraged many foresters in the private sector, I've never detected any bitterness among Forest Service foresters for the transfer of power to the ologists. I am sure that many are thinking to themselves, "Okay, we tried to do the impossible. Now it's your turn--let's see how well you handle it."
Personally, I am skeptical that changing the people in charge will have a major influence in the long run if you don't also change the incentives. To date, few environmentalists are happy with Thomas' performance.
But some changes are real. "The burden of proof has shifted," says Doug MacCleery, who is now the assistant director of the Forest Service's timber program. "A few years ago, a timber sale would be sold unless a biologist or other specialist could prove that the sale would damage some other resource. Now, the timber people have to prove that sales won't damage other resources."
Andrew Jackson reputedly said, "One man with courage makes a majority." But Jackson never had to confront a huge bureaucracy and the political forces behind it. Although Jeff Sirmon, Jeff DeBonis, and Jerry Franklin played courageous roles, they could only do what they did with the help of many other like-minded line officers, staff, and scientists. And each of their revolts were reinforced by the other two. Yet, to a large degree, the three revolts each had completely different causes.
Though the revolution has spread outside of Region 6, there are still some parts of the Forest Service it hasn't yet reached. Many forests in the East and Southeast, as well as Alaska, remain optimal habitat for timber beasts. Their time may come, but only if, as in Region 6, they are prompted by a broad range of forces acting on people throughout the agency--forces largely beyond environmentalists' control.
Today, some environmentalists in those unreconstructed regions think that all Northwest environmentalists had to do to save old growth was have the spotted owl listed as a threatened species. This has led to a huge increase in the number of petitions to list various species.
Yet the listing of the owl really played a negligible role in the timber sale reductions of the past few years. The National Wildlife Federation's Mapleton suit convinced line officers to rethink their dependence on timber--but that suit was based on the National Environmental Policy Act, not the Endangered Species Act. The Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund's spotted owl suits were based more on the National Forest Management Act than on the Endangered Species Act.
Clearly, environmentalists played a role in the Forest Service's cultural tranformation. But lawsuits and other environmental tactics would have accomplished little if they had not had support from the scientists in the research community, the ologists in the national forests, and the line officers running those forests.
These revolutions didn't reinvent the Forest Service in the sense of making it more efficient. In fact, the agency now loses more money than ever before. But the revolt of the 1980s transformed the agency far more than the Clinton reinvention process is likely to do, mainly because it came, not from the top down, but up from the ground.