Friday, June 19, 2015

Forest Protection Officer certification

“His supervisor, a well-liked ranger by the name of Dick McLaren, gave Randy a line of advice to which he would adhere for the rest of his career: 'The best way to teach the public isn't with a citation, it's with communication.”
― Eric Blehm, The Last Season

I spent a week in Coeur d'Alene in the Idaho panhandle getting my Forest Protection Officer (FPO) certification. This certification will allow me to write people tickets for forest violations. While there is a huge laundry list of laws that are specific to what you can't do on Forest Service land, and I am now able to write a ticket for any of those, generally, any ticket writing I do will mostly be focused into the more common violations we see in Wilderness areas. The more common issues in Wilderness areas (all of which have laws protecting them and are ticketable offenses) are:

-building a fire during fire restrictions
-not extinguishing a fire completely/ unattended campfires
-leaving trash (mostly in their fire pits...people try to burn trash but most of it doesn't burn completely)
-not disposing of waste properly (poop should be buried in a 6" hole)
-not abiding by camp site restrictions (many areas have 100-200' set backs from water sources and trails, some places have entire areas closed to overnight use)
-not getting a Wilderness permit
-improper food storage (many places where bears are an issue require all smellables to be stored in bear proof containers)
-cutting of live trees (firewood must be from things that are dead and on the ground already. Sometimes people will cut trees to make a lean-to)
-improper stock use (leaving stock tied too close to water, tying stock directly to trees, bringing untreated hay etc)
-caching gear 
-riding a bike (the Wilderness Act was written to preserve areas as primitive with no motorized or mechanized use allow, so only foot and horse travel are allowed)

As an FPO and I not allowed to use force (physically detain visitors) nor am I armed. I'm not allowed to enter any situations involving guns, alcohol, drugs or violence. I am not a "law enforcement officer" (though we do have LEOs aka police that are specifically for Forest Service lands), the FPO certification is just for writing tickets. The training was a lot of classroom time and then we spent a day going through role-playing scenarios where we had to enter into an acted out violation and decide how we handle it. Probably more important than being able to write tickets is becoming familiar with the laws so I can document misuse and we can take action accordingly (example: if we gather enough definitively documented cases of misuse and impacts issues, management can take actions like having trailhead quotas or only allowing camping in pre-designated sites to try and mitigate those impacts or issues. But to do something like that we really need lots of documented examples of the misuse and that doesn't need to be tickets, it can also be written up as an incident where no one gets cited). As with any Forest Service trainings one of the best parts was getting to be around other Wilderness Rangers and hear about other Wilderness areas. There were people at the training from Forests in OR, WA, ID and MT. I got to carpool with the rangers from the next district of them has worked as a rafting guide and another was a climbing ranger on Mt Rainier for 3 seasons and he also trains dogs to search for avalanche victims! I also met a ranger who as a girl went through a lot of the GirlVentures programs (where I have done some volunteer as well as paid contract work)....very cool to see a GirlVentures alum working in the Wilderness!