USA: USFS’s large volume forest liquidation infrastructure replaced with pairing

In 2002, when Bull took over as supervisor, the Bitterroot National Forestemployed about 190 people. Today, the number is closer to 100. “When I came here, every nook and cranny was filled with people at the supervisor’s office,” Bull said. “There’s a lot more space now. We’ve probably lost about 30 percent of our work force in the supervisor’s office.” In the Forest Service’s Northern Region, there are six different forests that are being considered under the “pairing” model. They include the Bitterroot and Lolo; the Custer and Gallatin; and the Nez Perce and Clearwater national forests in Idaho.

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New catchword is “pairing” and, at this point, no one really knows exactly where it will lead. Forest Service officials on both regional and forest levels are holding wide-ranging discussions on how the agency could streamline its operation while maintaining the services people have come to expect.

“There’s a lot of speculation out there right now, but there hasn’t been any decisions made on what’s going to happen,” Bull said. For years, the agency has been challenged with the prospect of paying the escalating costs of
fighting wildfires from budgets that have remained static. “Our budgets have been flat at a time when a larger amount of funding is needed for fir suppression,” said Bitterroot National Forest Supervisor Dave Bull. “All of our other budgets for different programs are dropping.”

The agency has been exploring different cost-saving concepts for the last few years, including looking for opportunities to reduce the number of higher-grade positions at both forest and regional levels, Bull said. “We are looking for ways to economize, including potentially sharing staff people and perhaps even forest supervisors,” he said. Over the last few months, the Lolo and Bitterroot forests have shared a supervisor while Bull filled a temporary position at the regional office.

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