« The Curious Case of Forest Planning and EMS | Main | Fierce Conversations »

April 25, 2005

Forest Service Centennial Film
John Rupe

The Forest Service Centennial Film called "The Greatest Good" is being screened in a number of location.  See this link.


It's a feature-length documentary film intended to document the 100 years of the Forest Service.  Produced in high-definition, it has beautiful landscape footage, rarely seen archival photos, documents, old TV commercials and shows, and extensive interviews of historians, Forest Service Chiefs, employees, and academia.  It succeeds best in describing the history of the Forest Service in the first 75 or so years.  The film is also great in capturing the views of retired Forest Service employees about the changes to the agency.  The film is somewhat less impressive in describing the history of the Forest Service from the 1970s on, (particularly for someone who has worked in the organization during this time) leaving out major topics such as RARE II, the sagebrush rebellion, or internal issues such as how computers and networks have flattened the organization.  It curiously never mentions Forest Planning or the culture within the agency with a bias toward rational planning.  The film spends considerable time on fire and fuels management, as well as timber harvest.  But it omits the importance of mineral development to settlement of the West, and Forest Service policies on mining, energy development, and other activities such as water diversion.  For someone who grew up in the West, it also seemed to miss the point of the intense local vs. National tension that has characterized the history of the agency.

Of course, it's been called propaganda by some:


However flawed, it's a great film, and an excellent chance to relook at the historical perspective of today's issues.

Posted by John Rupe on April 25, 2005 at 07:32 PM | Permalink


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Forest Service Centennial Film:


Posted by: Jerry Williams

I too have problems with the Greatest Good video/film. It doesn't treat lots of issues. Included are the buildup of the infrastructure from 1905 to the 1940s, the significant role of grazing in the 1900-1940 era, the 10th & 20th forestry engineers in WWI, the "forest reserves" in WWII, the Aircraft Warning Service in WWII, the consciencious objectors in WWII, the effort of the FS to control private forestry in the 1920-1950 period, mining in the 1900-1950 period, omesteading on the national forests 1891-1910, summer homes 1910-2005, the role of the General Land Office and the US Geological Survey 1897-1905, the relations with the Park Service and the BLM from 1891 to present, the battles over national parks and national monuments, the role of the agency in the international arena from the 1870s to present, the role of Pinchot and his wife in the start of the UN, the Rio Conference in 1992, the role of the USAID and international relief, the FS and Vietnam, the agency and state & private forestry including envasive species, gypsy moths, spruce budworm, tussock moth, T&E species reintroduction, condors, etc. etc. etc. Each of these topics deserves a lot of talk/discussion/video footage, but, alas, there isn't enough time even with a two-hour video. I guess you will just have to read about it!

What one person thinks is the most important is countered by another who thinks their perspective is most important. It boils down to what the film producers believe will make the best "story" in the time provided.

One telling story, for me, was about a month ago when I helped show the video at the annual meeting of the Oragnization of American Historians in San Jose. In the audience was the historian for the NPS. He was there to see what the FS did in a video history as the NPS is coming up on their 100th in 11 years. He was amazed by the production, the photography, and candid comments by the people interviewed. He said the the NPS would never allow such a production as the public relations staff would remake the video into a short, self promotion piece that lacked any mention of controversy or troubles, much less have the top NPS leaders make off the cuff responses to issues that were not current policy.

Some, but not all, the above issues will be addressed by the Greatest Good video DVD, 2 companion DVDs, and a book. These will be available from the Forest History Society early next month.

In the interest of fairness, I was interviewed by the video producers for over two hours. I appeared in the video for all of 5 seconds (around .01% of the video). Jerry Williams, USFS national historian

Jerry Williams | Apr 27, 2005 12:55:06 PM

The comments to this entry are closed.