Back in the day, all the forest needed was a ranger. He, it was always a he, rode manfully about on his horse, stopping to fix a fence, fight a fire, or count a cow or two.
We are far from those days. Now the agency is somewhat like a cake, with dense layers of bureaucracy that, unlike a real cake, get heavier and bigger the higher you go. And this is the biggest layer of them all, the Washington Office!
I am working in the charming Yates Building. It's actually kind of pretty:
See that tower? One of the times I was here, I found out how to go up there. A woman sits near the stairs and lets you in. It's very winding and narrow. I wish my office were up there!
But no, I am on the fourth floor in a cubicle. See the windows? I'm not near one. But if I were, I couldn't see out, because there are Kevlar curtains on them. Why, you ask? In case of shooting! Remember the shooting at the Holocaust museum? People here were locked in and couldn't leave. The people that were out of the office doing whatever and didn't have their car keys were out of luck. Now when you leave, even if you're just running across the street to the cafeteria, you're supposed to take everything with you.
In the basement there's a shower and locker room. There's rumored to be a gym in the Ag building, but I can't find out because the people in the Wilderness department Work.All.The.Time. They didn't even know about the shower. They don't even take a lunch hour. (I do).
There are guards at the door. Once I surprised one who was asleep. It must be a boring, boring job. They can't even read a book. You just flash your card at them, which is weird because who knows what I am carrying in my backpack?
There are sirens pretty much all day. I sometimes go and look out, but nobody else does. They're used to it.
One weird thing is that people like to fill up their cars with other riders before they leave so they can take the carpool lanes. So you see random people standing outside the building. A car will pull up, someone will ask where they are going, and get in! With a stranger!
What am I working on, you ask? Well, here and in Congress is where the policy begins. So there are strategies and initiatives ad nauseum. Climate change scorecards. Wilderness 5 year strategies. Chainsaw and crosscut saw national policy changes. NEPA review assessment plans! All coming to a forest near you! Right now, I am part of the problem!
It's a lot different from my office, where people sneak in their dogs, wear Carharts and curse freely at their computers. For some people in the Forest Service, working here is their holy grail. They want to be up at the top, making these kinds of decisions. I have to admit it is nice to be able to insert my opinion into something like, should we require taskbooks to be certified to run a crosscut saw (I shudder to even write that)? But Kevlar curtains are not for me! I'm heading back to the bottom layer of the cake.