Editorial: The virus in the national forest


Published Dec 27, 2012 at 04:00AM / Updated Nov 19, 2013 at 12:31AM

The experts in charge of the national forests in Oregon have spoken.

They admitted a dispatcher botched the response to a call reporting the beginning of the Pole Creek Fire in the Deschutes National Forest near Sisters. The mistake delayed the response to the fire by three hours.

The fire ended up costing $18 million to fight. It spread to 40 square miles. Air quality monitors in Sisters reported hazardous breathing conditions for about a week.

The forest experts, though, declined to identify the dispatcher who made the mistake or make the person available to describe what went wrong.

The experts did not volunteer information about whether the employee was disciplined.

The experts did not explain how policies were going to be changed to avoid the mistake in the future.

The experts did not express frustration at the mistake.

The experts declined to concede that getting on the fire three hours earlier would have made a difference.

In other words, the experts in charge of the forest have spoken and told Central Oregon very little.

People will make mistakes. Dispatchers will, too.

There are rules in place to protect government employees when they do make mistakes. Supervisors, such as Forest Supervisor John Allen of the Deschutes National Forest, must therefore be careful how they respond to questions.

But Central Oregonians must put faith in these experts to properly manage the national forests. And with the answers the experts provided, there is no clear reason to believe that they have taken appropriate action.

It’s as if a virus has taken hold of national forest management.

It protects employees. It shields discovery of mistakes and any corrective action that is taken. It ensures that the public knows less about how well its public lands are managed.