Forest Service shuffles staff to get ‘boots on the ground’ | AspenTimes.com

Forest Service shuffles staff to get ‘boots on the ground’

The White River National Forest administration reorganized its massive staff yesterday to get more rangers out in the field and rededicate itself to its core duties.Forest Supervisor Maribeth Gustafson said 25 positions were eliminated but 23 new ones were created. For the most part, managerial and business administration positions were eliminated and field positions were added, she said. Additions range from a wildlife technician who will inventory species to a ranger assisting tourists at places like the Maroon Bells.The changes – which affect all six ranger districts in the forest, including Aspen – came after months of study of the forest’s work force by Gustafson and a team. Their top priority was to rededicate the staff to the field work essential to managing and protecting a 2.3-million-acre national forest.”Although our results do include some new positions at higher grade levels, overall the Leadership Team has increased our ability to fund boots on the ground,” said the team’s summary of its plan.Gustafson, who took over as supervisor in April, said the White River staff organization hadn’t been examined in years. There were 175 full-time and 150 part-time employees in the forest. Reorganization was needed to reflect changing needs, Gustafson said.The White River has the most recreational use of any national forest in the country, in large part because 11 ski areas use its public lands. Natural gas development has also skyrocketed in the Rifle Ranger District.Gustafson said the reorganization will place extra personnel in recreation, and oil and gas staff. Hikers, cyclists, dirt bikers and other backcountry travelers should see an increased presence of rangers due to the changes, she said.Six of the 25 staff cuts have already taken place. Six business operation positions were eliminated when the Forest Service consolidated business functions in Albuquerque, N.M., earlier this year.Another three cuts will be tackled by not filling vacancies. Five other employees close to retirement received buyouts.Seven Forest Service workers were given mandatory reassignments within the forest. They must accept the new posts or quit. Federal rules require that the reassigned jobs be within 49 miles of their old jobs.The last four cuts were made by eliminating positions. The employees will get priority placement for federal jobs for which they are qualified.Gustafson said the four employees laid off were notified of the decisions in private recently. The staffing changes and reorganization were announced at the six ranger districts Wednesday morning.Of the 23 new positions, seven will be filled by the reassigned workers. The other 16 positions are new, so workers must be recruited.Gustafson said the reorganization will save money, but that’s not the prime motivation. “It’s about recognizing our priorities,” she said.The group that worked on the work force planning wanted to get more people in the field rather than “bunched up” in management positions, she said. “We were trying to put [staff] in places where it was most effective.”Scott Condon’s e-mail is scondon@aspentimes.com

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