Whom to Contact and When

Whenever you are working with a large organization, it is important to be sure that you are communicating with the individual or group of individuals that are working on your specific issue or area of interest.

This tool will help you identify the correct person to contact to become involved in route designation and other processes.

About the USFS

The U.S. Forest Service is part of the Department of Agriculture and has its headquarters in Washington DC.  There are 9 Regional Offices, 155 National Forests & 20 Grasslands comprised of 626 Ranger Districts.

It is important to note that the USFS decision-making process is decentralized. This means that most decisions are made by the lower levels of the agency, with guidance from the upper levels. Using the Travel Management Rule as an example: the USFS Washington office developed and promulgated the rule but left the implementation strategy to be decided by each Forest working in conjunction with its respective regional office. This often means that the person responsible for making decisions about access are local officials who report directly to the Forest Supervisor.

While it can often be tempting to appeal to personnel who have higher positions on the chart, it is almost always more effective to start with the agency official who is closest to the decision-making process, and that person usually reports to the Forest Supervisor. Another concern is commenting to the wrong person altogether. Just as when you take your car in for service it doesn’t make sense to talk to a salesman, it doesn’t make sense to make specific comments to a Forest official that has limited or no knowledge or control over the process you are concerned about. This is why it is important to determine early in the process with whom you should be dealing.

Another valuable tool is the Forest Service Organizational Directory. This directory has a contact name and phone number listed for relevant officials on each Forest. At the end of this document you will find a sample fill-in sheet that you can use to keep track of who the appropriate personnel are on your Forest. Use the directory or call your local Forest to get this information.

Different Forests have distinct processes and different officials in charge of dealing with similar mandates; meaning that while it may be appropriate to speak with a District Ranger on one Forest about a specific undertaking, on another Forest the recreation staff directly below the Forest Supervisor may be the responsible officials. This is why it is important to identify exactly whom you should talk to.

Contact your local Forest by visiting the USFS website. Ask specific questions that will help the official you are dealing with identify exactly who you should approach. For example, if you are trying to determine who is the appropriate person to deal with regarding the Travel Management Rule ask questions like:

  • Who has lead responsibility for implementation of the Travel Management Rule?
  • Will there be one final decision affecting the entire Forest or will implementation be completed independently by each Ranger District?

Hopefully, you will be directed to the correct person. If you are still unsure ask to speak with the Forest’s recreation staff as they should be able to direct you. Always ask about where you can find additional information, for example:

  • Do you have information on your website about the Travel Management Rule?
  • Can I be placed on a mailing list to receive future notices?

Once you determine who is responsible, you should contact that person directly and make him or her aware of your concerns and your interest in being involved. Remember, this official will be making decisions that affect your access to recreate on your local Forest, so always be polite and present yourself professionally. Ideally, the person you identify will be who you will work with throughout the process and you should develop a working relationship with him or her.

On occasion, the person responsible for the process you are concerned with will not, or cannot, implement your recommendations. Remember, this official is hearing from many different stakeholders who often have conflicting priorities so make sure your comments and recommendations are clear and concise. If it becomes necessary to appeal to a higher-ranking official, refer to the chart above and contact the next highest official and calmly explain your concerns. Often, the “next” person to contact will be the Forest Supervisor. You may find that the Supervisor is aware of the decisions made by his or her staff and that the Supervisor is supportive of actions taken.  Remember the person you have been dealing with is on the Supervisor’s staff and has likely been reporting to him or her all along. It is still important to contact the Supervisor first before going to a higher-ranking official. The Supervisor may not be aware of your concerns, so going directly “over his/her head” is not advisable. In addition, you should document your contacts with Forest personnel as you may need this information later.

If, after contacting the Supervisor, the issue is not resolved, it may be appropriate to contact the Regional Forester with your concerns. A directory of Regional Foresters can be found here.