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The changing politics of woods work

Cash-strapped agencies use private contractors to the detriment of local communities. Hawkinson’s assertion that manual labor such as tree-planting, thinning timber and fuel-reduction logging is the kind of work that no modern Americans want to do comes up over and over again. There is, of course, a built-in conundrum in the question: As long as we have thousands of poor migrants, willing to plant our trees for $13.85 per hour or less, and as long as local Americans are actively discouraged from taking such jobs, we’ll never know the answer. But I do know that at one time, when wages were comparatively high, I preferred woods-work over any other employment, and I knew plenty of people across the West, and in the South, who felt the same way. McIver echoed the point that the Forest Service, starved by budget cuts and firefighting costs, typically awards multi-year contracts to bigger, out-of-state, low-bid contractors that use the H-2B workers because it has little choice. The agency does not give preference to local crews. That may be more efficient, she said. “But efficiency was only one factor in the equation — what do you tell the people in Mineral County, Montana, about jobs and schools, where it is 93 percent public land, and what work is getting done on those lands isn’t available to anybody who lives there?”  

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High Country News