The Last Picture Show
Forest Service Brochure Contains Misleading Pictures
Pictures used by the U.S. Forest Service in a brochure arguing for heavier logging in California’s Sierra Nevada forest are deliberately misleading — and, say critics, validate concerns about the USFS paying a public relations firm $90,000 to help push its perspective. A series of black and white pictures in the brochure, dated from 1909 through to 1989, show a forest increasingly thick with closely spaced trees and underbrush, meant to demonstrate that the now-fire-prone forest needs thinning, unlike the “forests of the past.” But the first photo, from 1909, doesn’t show a naturally thin forest at all: It was taken right after the forest was logged. And about that forest: It’s not in the Sierra Nevada; it’s in Montana. In 1998, the USFS “used this same sequence of photos and misrepresented it to make it seem like it came from the forest just above Ashland, Ore.,” said Timothy Ingalsbee of the Western Fire Ecology Center. “I can’t believe they are still doing this.” The USFS defended the use of the photos, saying they represented typical conditions across much of the West. “We needed to be accurate, but not necessarily precise to the 99th degree,” said a USFS spokesperson.