A retired Forest Service ranger who witnessed the heavily commercial side of the agency butt against a growing conservation movement over the span of five decades will speak Wednesday at Fort Lewis College.
Jim Furnish, who served as a U.S. Forest Service deputy chief and former San Juan National Forest planner, will join a panel at 6:30 p.m. in the Student Union Ballroom to discuss the future role of national forests and public lands.
Other panelists include Kara Chadwick, supervisor of the San Juan National Forest; Kyle Hanson of Western Excelsior Aspen Mill; Aaron Kimble of the San Juan Headwaters Forest Health Partnership; and Jimbo Buickerood of the San Juan Citizens Alliance.
Furnish, who joined the Forest Service in 1965, is on the heels of releasing his memoir, Toward a National Forest.
“It’s a personal tale about my career in the Forest Service,” Furnish told The Durango Herald. “But it’s also about what happened to the Forest Service through the eyes of an insider.”
Formed in 1905, the Forest Service serves the nation’s 154 national forests and 20 national grasslands, which total about 193 million acres.
The federal agency throughout the years has been criticized for siding with commercial interests as opposed to preserving some of the country’s most untouched wilderness.
“What drove the Forest Service was commerce,” Furnish said. “I came to question much of what had transpired in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s. It wasn’t until the ’90s that we saw a great time of change and transition. And also uncertainty.”
Furnish said the spotted owl controversy that shut down logging on public lands in the Pacific Northwest, where he was based, was a prime example of how environmental groups began to gain traction in keeping the agency in check.
“On the poles of commerce vs. environmentalism, I come out pretty strongly on the side of the environment,” Furnish said. “I’m not against commerce, as long as it’s in the context of clean water, quality wildlife habitat, solitude and beauty.”
Furnish has been on a book tour for his memoir, and he said although the regions may vary, many of the themes are the same. The conflicts of land-use management abound everywhere.
“I see the Forest Service having a difficult time nailing down where they want to go in the future,” he said. “In terms of society’s view of public land and how they should be managed to satisfy the public value base, I think they’re struggling.”
A 30-minute documentary, “Seeing the Forest,” will be shown at Wednesday’s event. The film explores how diverse community interests affect the success of restoration of national forest land.