Sunday, September 30, 2012
Chico writer's exposé of the U.S. Forest Service
The mission of the U.S. Forest Service is the management of almost 200 million acres of timberland. According to Christopher Burchfield, who worked for the agency, that mission has been systematically undermined since the late 1970s. "In 1973," he writes, "Gene C. Bernardi, a female U.S. Forest Service research sociologist, filed a class action lawsuit charging the agency with sex discrimination. In 1979 the Forest Service entered into a consent decree with the plaintiff."
Burchfield sifted through thirty-seven boxes of "letters, reports, directives and minutes of meetings" at the Federal Records Storage Center in San Bruno, all relating to the civil suit. The result of his investigations, which include interviews with current and former Forest Service employees affected by the consent decree, is "The Tinder Box: How Politically Correct Ideology Destroyed the U.S. Forest Service" ($27.95 in paperback from Stairway Press, www.stairwaypress.com; also available in Barnes and Noble Nook e-book format).
Burchfield is scheduled to sign copies of his book at Barnes and Noble in Chico this Thursday, October 4, at 6:30 p.m. An interview with the author, conducted by Nancy Wiegman of Nancy's Bookshelf on KCHO (Northstate Public Radio, 91.7 FM) is available at http://goo.gl/uOWm4.
As the effect of the Bernardi consent decree began to radiate outward, Burchfield contends, more and more qualified men were passed over in favor of a misguided egalitarianism, putting women into positions for which they were psychologically and physically unqualified. Merit promotion was undermined and the agency was beset by legal challenges to its policies.
In 1999, after he started working for the Mendocino National Forest, Burchfield concluded "that the U.S. Forest Service's effort to reach gender parity in all professions and grade levels had been an unmitigated disaster." The agency, he says, was "demoralized and utterly without a sense of mission," plagued by laziness, absenteeism, victimhood, and incompetence.
In 1986, Burchfield writes, for a time the "Forests began purchasing lightweight, single-ply fire hoses fifty feet in length with plastic fittings attached" so female firefighters could more easily handle them. But the hoses "had a propensity to kink, popped leaks by the score" and--melted.
"The Tinder Box" aims to explain "why, over the past twenty years, ninety million acres of American's wild lands have gone up in flames.