00:42:50 - 00:51:42 Public Perception
Public perception, humorous stories, White, Reggie; tours, work with public; personnel, hiring practices
And, I guess, did you see public perceptions of the Forest Service change during your time here?
Yes. I saw a huge change from starting with a much more positive perception of the Forest Service, in general now, to much more negative perception, and then now moving back to more positive perceptions. But that's very slow, because, in the meantime, there's been a lot of environmental regulations put in, and harvesting bans, and that sort of thing. And some of that's very, was very much needed, you know. So, it's a balancing act. And, but generally, I think the perception of the Forest Service now is better than it has been, and could probably continue to, continue an upswing. In terms of the amount of, or the employees that are working in the area or they worked for the Forest Service, I don't have any idea whether that's expanded or decreased. I think there's a feeling generally that probably way too many people are assigned to the Washington office, to these big offices, and are not on the ground.
I would say one of the problems with the Forest Products Laboratory is staffing levels now, versus what they were, oh in the '70s. There's been a steady decline with tighter budgets. And so as the staffing declines, it is much harder to keep all of the disciplines going, that the lab has worked on. There's, I don't know, there were sixteen or eighteen different projects like the one I had in composites, but in timber engineering and mycology, and preservation, and fire retardants. It's hard to keep all of that going with a reduced staff, for sure. And that's one of the problems I think is happening now.
And do you see that as a function of say administration in DC or specifically Forest Service administration, or maybe the broader political atmosphere?
I think it's the political atmosphere. I do.
Well maybe, going back to the Lab specifically---
Yeah, I'm talking about broader pictures.
Yeah, well, and that's fine too, it's good to know the context. I guess, do you have strong or specific memories about colleagues that you had here?
Well, yeah, I don't know how to comment on that. I mean,
Or any particular stories that you remember? Or funny incidents? Or something interesting that happened that you want to record?
Well, I remember one day, I don't know, it must have been in the mid '90s, I got a call from the front desk, well there's a visitor here that would like to come and look at your project and so forth. Well, it turned out to be Reggie White, the Green Bay Packer. And of course, he was a tower; he could barely get through the door. And he was interested in small projects that he could initiate in inner city, you know, for taking this recycled material and making something at the local level. And, I think he did get, his organization or whatever he was sponsoring or involved with, did get that kind of thing going. But that was kind of fun to talk to him and to show him around.
Our area of the composite products was one that people were always interested in, and it was easy to communicate with the public about, about this area. You know, they can relate to products in their home that we would have worked on, and so forth. So, we would get a lot of public, people come to just stop in for a tour, oh we'd like to see this. Well we'd get calls daily to take people through and explain things to them. And they would range from just the general tours to senators and high ranking USDA people, and you know, people from all over the world really. Then that was an interesting, you'd meet some, that's why every day was so different. We would always have some element of, of that going on, you know, different people coming through, and our project, our work was easy to explain and was of interest to them. It's much harder to explain some kind of a wood fungi attacking some timber or something, you know. So, I mean that, we were exposed to the public a lot more than a lot of other elements here. And I enjoyed that; that was real positive.
So, you know, in terms of memories of other people I know, one of the problems with the Forest Products Lab was they would hire people in sort of surges. So there would be maybe thirty new people starting within two months or three months. Well, that also meant that thirty, twenty or thirty people were retiring and leaving huge gaps in knowledge and in experience and skills. And that was always a difficult thing to deal with and accommodate. But there would always be a real challenging and good young talent, you know that we would pick up. And a lot of our employees were sort of trained on the spot. You know, they'd come in to the job and they learn a field by participating in it. And no, I mean it's hard to hire people that have these skill sets that you need in these different areas, so you know, a lot of that. So it was always real interesting. And the mix with the students was a real positive thing---we always had half a dozen students in our area alone. They would be, either they'd be part-time people or working on advanced degrees or taking a course where they were required to do some kind of hands on work, that sort of thing. So, I, all those were real positive.