Where is the U.S. Forest Service? I mean the Forest Service that I knew during the 34 years that I was employed by the agency across the western U.S., from Alaska to California.
I don’t ever recall a district ranger being removed because some local politician, or any politician for that matter, was unhappy with an action taken by that employee. During my career, if a line officer, such as a district ranger, was challenged, he or she was defended by every level of the Forest Service all the way to Washington, D.C.
But now we have a district ranger being removed before he was ever found guilty of any wrongdoing.
We have been told that District Ranger Alex Sienkiewicz was removed because he maintained a Forest Service trail that has been used by the public to enter the Gallatin National Forest for over 50 years. Like many others, this trail crossed a small section of private land before entering the national forest.
Local landowners contacted U.S. Sen. Steve Daines for help and he brought the new secretary of Agriculture into the battle. You see, these landowners have their own private hunting ground back there on our public land. Several are also involved in selling public bull elk harvested on this national forest land.
Evidence shows that the ranger was following established policy when he maintained this trail. In fact, I have a note from a retired district ranger stating that he had done exactly what Sienkiewicz did many times during his career in order to protect public access.
Remember, the politicians who triggered the ranger’s removal represent a political party that has for years advocated transfer of national forest land in Montana to state ownership. In fact, a plank in their state platform says as much. The same national party platform has a plank “requiring the federal government to convey certain federally controlled public lands to states.”
There is an irony with the timing of this demand: Had all that 16 million acres of national forest land been transferred to state ownership before this fire season, we would soon be seeing a bargain basement sale of what was once was national forest land to private parties in order to pay a multi-million-dollar firefighting bill. Just imagine who would be the successful bidder on your favorite mountain meadow.