The Thinking 

Before the Forest Was Feminized

June 30, 2012


Wenatchee National Forest, Washington; 1936

THE U.S. National Forest Service website has lots of interesting historic photos such as these of men working the woods, clearing land, building trails and fighting fires. Before it became a bureaucratic hellhole that routinely turns away and demoralizes the people most interested in and suited to the rigors of forest work, the Forest Service offered great opportunities for those (almost always men) who wanted to work the land for the summer or build an entire career related to preserving, maintaining, studying and planning forest lands. Now, as described in Christopher Burchfield’s excellent book,  The Tinder Boxlongtime forest employees fantasize of early retirement. They long to get away from the inefficiency and irrationality of a fanatically egalitarian organization. Young men, especially white men, who would otherwise be interested in jobs in the local forest dismiss the possibility. The Forest Service brings in people from far away to meet its quotas.

The state-enforced denial of sex differences is so far-reaching that this country’s natural resources are threatened. Equality is an all-consuming project. According to Burchfield, the forests are more neglected and more prone to devastating fires than they were before class action suits changed everything. The irony is that few women enjoy wielding chain saws or fighting raging infernos. Everything was turned upside down so women could do these very things.

Mt. Hood National Forest, 1943


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