USDA Forest Service
in Need of Change
Forest Policy Summit
Chief Dale Bosworth, USDA Forest Service
Rapid City, SDAugust 15, 2001
Senator Dashle, thank you for inviting me to be
here on this panel. Let me start by saying that
I welcome this initiative to sit down together and
try to reach agreement based on what we have in
common. I think we ought to be doing more of this
kind of thing all across the country.
A few days ago, I was at Grey Towers, the home
of Gifford Pinchot, who founded the Forest Service
almost a century ago. It gave me the chance to reflect
a little on sustainable forestry.
Gifford Pinchot and President Theodore Roosevelt
sought to establish the national forests as a model
of sustainable forestry for the nation. To them,
sustainability meant things like grazing and timber
cropping on a sustained-yield basis. Over the years,
it has evolved to mean more. Sustainability has
come to mean sustaining ecosystem health as well
as multiple products and uses. Our central mission
in managing the national forests and grasslands
has shifted from producing timber, range, and other
outputs to restoring and maintaining healthy, resilient
Today, the American people own about 192 million
acres of national forests and grasslands. Are these
lands a model of healthy, resilient ecosystems?
Sadly, many are not. About 73 million acres are
at risk from fires that could compromise human safety
and ecosystem integrity. Another 33 million acres
are at risk from insects and disease, often due
to invasive species. A number of riparian areas
and rangelands are degraded, and there are other
forest health problems as well. Human activity or
neglect created many of these problems; they wont
go away on their own.
We know how to restore our ecosystems to health.
For example, we can use a combination of thinning
and prescribed burning to create healthy forest
stands with diverse habitats. Too often, though,
we spend so much time just trying to comply with
laws, regulations, and procedures that we cant
do the necessary work on the ground. This problem
is sometimes called analysis paralysis.
The environmental laws and regulations we must follow
have admirable objectives that I fully support;
but the processes we must go through have become
so complex and cumbersome that often we cant
do what is needed for the health of the land.
Let me give you an example. In Utah, there are
Mormon cricket outbreaks on the Uinta National Forest.
They move down onto private farmland and devastate
crops. USDA has been treating the crickets with
a pesticide certified by EPA as safe. Its
sold commercially under the brand name Sevin. We
had a cricket outbreak in February, and we had until
April to apply the pesticide. But we couldnt,
because we were first required to complete a new
environmental assessment. By the time we were through
with the EA, the damage was done.
Heres a different kind of example. It has
taken more than 10 years to complete a 15-year forest
plan on the Tongass National Forest in Alaska. Meanwhile,
in cases like this, the landscape might have changed.
Different factors might come in, players can change.
Suddenly, the assumptions we made early on are no
longer valid. Appeals are made, and back we go to
the drawing board. The forest planning process can
become a perpetual nightmare.
Is that the way it was supposed to work? No way.
When the National Forest Management Act was passed
in 1976, Senator Hubert Humphrey proclaimed something
to the effect that we have now taken national forest
management out of the courts and given it back to
the professionals. Instead, the opposite has happened.
Now, judges are sitting in courtrooms and making
resource management decisions based on points of
law, not on conditions out in the field.
Alternative Pilot Projects
Dont get me wrong: We can and must meet the
requirements of our environmental laws. Besides,
I think its good that the American people
value the environment and have gotten more directly
engaged in the stewardship of the lands that belong
to them. I think thats part of what democracy
means. I just think we need to start thinking about
other ways of working together. Do we really want
the conflict industry telling us what we can do?
Do we really want never-ending processes to keep
us from doing whats right for the land?
I have put together a high-level team in the Forest
Service to explore some alternatives. Were
looking at ways to streamline processes and maybe
propose some pilot testing for alternative approaches.
For example, well look at the July 2001 study
on NEPA pilot project initiatives requested by Senators
Baucus, Crapo, Reid, and Thomas. We already have
some promising pilots out there, such as large-scale
watershed projects, stewardship contracts, and Service
First working agreements with BLM. Maybe you
folks can offer some other ideas.
Whatever we do, I think we need to go back to the
spirit of the 1960s and 1970s, to the intent of
the environmental legislation. The intent, in my
view, was to produce a result most people want:
healthy ecosystems on public lands with plenty of
public input. Five years ago, at the Seventh American
Forest Conference, more than a thousand people came
together. They were able to agree, often by large
majorities, on 12 out of 13 visions for the future
of Americas forests. I think that gives us
hope that we can work together in the future based
on a common vision.
What should that vision be? As a basis for what
unites us, I would offer this: What we leave on
the land is more important than what we take away.
Lets work together for the health of the land
through results-oriented, citizen-based land management.
Thats what I think people want. We are currently
bound by a straitjacket of conflicting processes
and procedures. Meanwhile, in some ways, our forests
continue to decline. We need to find some other
In the past, when America has put its mind to something
and simply told its public servants, Go to
it! You figure it out, weve always had
great success: the Civilian Conservation Corps,
the Manhattan Project, and the moon landing all
come to mind. Isnt it time we did the same
thing for healthy ecosystems on our public lands?
If we can work together based on what unites us,
I think we can get there. I hope we can make a start
right here in the Black Hills.