USDA Forest Service
Together for the
Health of the Land
Natural Resources Summit
Chief Dale Bosworth, USDA Forest Service
Sacramento, CASeptember 28, 2001
Id like to thank Assemblyman Cogdill for
arranging this meeting and for giving me the chance
to be here. Its a pleasure to be back in California.
I grew up here in California on the national forests;
my father was a forest supervisor. I guess my earliest
professional experience was during summers as a
teenager fighting fires for the California Department
of Forestry. Later, I spent some time in the Forest
Services regional office in California, which
was in San Francisco at the time. So I have some
familiarity with the land here in California and
with national forest issues.
Before I start, let me just say that there are
over 200 pending administrative appeals of the Sierra
Nevada Framework Amendments in my office. Under
the appeal rules, it is inappropriate for me to
discuss the merits of the appeals and the Sierra
Framework with you while the appeals are still pending.
It is also inappropriate for me to answer any questions
from you related to the Framework. The decision
on the appeals will be issued within the next month
or so. My remarks today will therefore be generic
as to the kinds of issues facing the Sierras.
In fact, as special as the Sierras are, a lot of
the issues affecting the Sierras are pretty generic.
Issues like fire and forest health, the wildland/urban
interface, invasive species, and clean water and
air affect our private and public lands all across
America. Id like to start by talking a little
about what I see as the Forest Services role
in addressing these issues. Then Id like to
describe some of the opportunities I see for solving
the problems we face by working together.
Our National Forest System is almost a century
old. The first Forest Service Chief was Gifford
Pinchot, and in 1905 he wrote the first Use Book
for the national forests. It was so short and simple
it could fit inside your pocket. It was a blueprint
for managing the national forests as a model of
sustainable forestry for the nation. It called for
things like grazing and timber cropping on a sustained-yield
Over the years, sustainable forestry has evolved
to mean more. Sustainability has come to mean sustaining
ecosystem health as well as multiple products and
uses. We have come to realize that without healthy
ecosystems, we cannot sustain the products and uses
that our communities need for their health and stability.
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 ecosystems.
Now, that doesnt mean ignoring social and
economic needs; in fact, it means the opposite.
As strange as it might sound, healthy ecosystems
need healthy communities. Heres why: Local
communities are the caretakers of healthy ecosystems.
If our communities are healthy economically, they
will find ways to take care of the land. If they
are not, the land will suffer.
As I see it, our mission is to work with local
individuals and communities to protect and restore
the health of the land. Partly, that means finding
intelligent, far-sighted ways of using some of our
natural resources. Partly, it means working together
to diversify economies while putting people to work
for the health of the land. I think we need to accomplish
our land stewardship goals by looking for creative
new ways to get needed work done on the land, get
products from it, and build communities together.
Those are the real opportunities I see.
Okay, so how do we go about working together for
the health of the land? We cant get there
by doing nothing. One problem has been convincing
folks that active management is needed. When people
see lots of trees, they tend to think everything
must be just fine. They think all we need to do
is to sit back and let nature take care of itself.
They dont see the long-term changes to the
land caused by a combination of human activity and
neglect. They dont see the problems that have
resulted and the potential for even greater problems
in the future.
A few weeks ago, I was in the Tahoe Basin. Much
of the basin was clearcut a century or more ago,
but today its covered again with trees. Some
people see that and think its all pretty pristine.
But we know from old stumps and old photos what
the original forest was like. The forests were much
more open than today. The trees were bigger and
a whole lot healthier. In fact, some 40 percent
of the trees in the Tahoe Basin today are dead or
dying from overcrowding.
What can we do? If we do nothing, Lake Tahoe will
continue to deteriorate in terms of water quality
and clarity. The native cutthroat trout will never
recover. The forests will continue to wither and
die. Enormous wildfires will sweep through places
that, historically, seldom saw large fires. The
consequences for communities and for the lake itself
are potentially catastrophic.
You can see similar catastrophes brewing all across
the Sierras, and not just there. You can see them
brewing throughout the Interior West, and, indeed,
all across the nation. The big fires last year were
a wakeup call. The scope of our forest health problem
today is enormous:
- On the national forests alone, about 73 million
acres are at risk from wildland fires that could
compromise human safety and ecosystem integrity.
- About 70 million acres in all ownerships are
at severe risk from 26 different insects and diseases.
About 47 percent of that is national forest land.
- Other symptoms of a forest health crisis include
the spread of invasive species and the degradation
- These problems are interlinked. Decades of fire
suppression have often produced overcrowded vegetation
in our forests, weakening trees and rendering
them more fire prone and more susceptible to pests,
diseases, and displacement by invasive species.
Too often, the result is soil erosion and habitat
degradation, especially in sensitive areas such
as streams, lakes, and wetlands.
These problems affect us all. Catastrophic fire
and insect infestations dont respect jurisdictional
boundaries. For years, weve had controversy
over active management on the national forests and
grasslands. Were seeing it spill over onto
state and private lands. State and private folks
are also worried about the impact on their own lands
if we cant do the work we need to do on the
national forests. I think we are going to have to
do a much better job of communicating with the American
people about whats going on in the woods and
what we need to do about it.
As professional foresters with some of the best
forest science in the world, we know what needs
to be done and we have the will and the ability
to do it. On national forest land, weve made
a start. Were returning fire to the ecosystem,
and were using thinning to help open up our
vegetation-choked forests. We also have vigorous
pest management and watershed restoration programs,
often in collaboration with state and private partners.
However, at the rate were going, it will
take more than 50 years just to treat the 73 million
acres at the most risk from fire on the national
forests. Thats just not acceptable. We are
going to have to pick up the pace. The scale of
our forest health problem means we are going to
need huge and sustained investments for active management.
The GAO has cited a figure of $30 billion over the
next 10 years just to deal with the fuels problem
on federal lands.
Congress has made a start by funding the National
Fire Plan. The western states, working together
with federal, tribal, and local partners, have drafted
a collaborative 10-year strategy for restoring our
fire-adapted ecosystems to health. On the national
forests, we will greatly expand our forest health
treatments, starting with the areas most at riskthe
wildland/urban interface, municipal watersheds,
and areas adjacent to neighboring lands. So I think
were on the right track. I am totally committed
to the National Fire Plan.
But theres another problem. Even if we know
what to do and we are ready to do it, we can still
be stopped by institutional gridlock. Too often,
we spend so much time just trying to comply with
laws, regulations, and procedures that we cant
do the necessary work on the ground.
The way things are set up, someone with a good
lawyer and an axe to grind can keep things tied
up for years through administrative appeals and
litigation. We might win in the endmore and
more court cases are decided in our favorbut
by then, it might be too late. Meanwhile, we are
forced to spend scarce resources on process instead
of getting work done on the ground, and the problems
in the field just keep getting worse.
For example, the NEPA initiation and appeals phase
for a project, from scoping through the end of the
administrative process, might take more than a year.
That could be followed by another two years of litigation,
for a total of more than three years before the
project can go forward. By then, it might be too
late; maybe a fire has already come through, for
example, and destroyed what the project was supposed
Another example is this: It might take 5 to 10
years to complete a 15-year forest plan. Meanwhile,
the landscape might have changed or new information
might have emerged. Suddenly, the assumptions we
made early on are no longer valid, and back we go
to the drawing board.
Part of the problem is that the laws sometimes
overlap. A federal judge in California saw that
happen in a case he ruled on back in 1984. He called
it the crazy quilt of apparently mutually
incompatible statutory directives. He said
it was enough to drive any Secretary of Agriculture
Another problem is that agency responsibilities
overlap. Theres bipartisan agreement on that.
For example, when former President Bill Clinton
started researching the northern spotted owl controversy
in 1992, he said he found that there were six separate
government agencies involved and that they had five
different positions under the same administration.
When the National Forest Management Act passed
in 1976, Senator Hubert Humphrey said it was designed
to get the practice of forestry out of the courts
and back in the forests. Instead, the opposite
has happened. Resource management decisions are
made by judges based on points of law, not on conditions
out in the field.
Again, theres bipartisan agreement that this
perverts the original intent of the law. Heres
what Kathleen McGinty, who was CEQ Chair under President
Clinton, had to say about it: How could we
have gotten it so wrong?
How could it be
that, for 5 years, 10 yearssometimes for a
quarter of a century or morewhen it comes
to natural resources we have literally been a country
in receivership. The courts have managed our forests;
our rivers; our rangelands.
So I think theres a lot of agreement that
the system is broken. With that said, I remain absolutely
committed to meeting the requirements of our environmental
laws. Besides, I think its good that the American
people value the environment and have gotten more
directly engaged. I just think we ought to find
a way to get back to the original intent of the
law. We ought to rescue the spirit of our environmental
laws from the way they have been twisted to serve
a few narrow interests.
How can we get there? I think we need to start
thinking about other ways of working together. If
were ever going to solve Americas forest
health problems, then I think were going to
need to find other ways of doing things than we
have in the past. I have put together a high-level
team in the Forest Service to explore ways of streamlining
processes and maybe propose some alternative approaches
for pilot testing. I think we need a national dialogue
on this problem. Were wide open for ideas!
That brings me to some of the opportunities I see.
Let me just repeat, first off, that I think we need
thriving communities for healthy ecosystems, and
vice versa. We cant do it alone. Were
going to need your help, your ingenuity, your investments
to restore the Sierras to health. I see a lot of
win/win situations out there on the land, provided
we can come to some agreement.
The National Fire Plan opens up a lot of opportunities.
That includes thinning projects on national forest
land. Most of the thinning wont produce high-value
sawlogs. But there are commercial uses for some
of the small-diameter materials we need to remove,
and a high priority for our Forest Products Lab
is to discover more. The biomass industry holds
great promise, especially here in California. Through
the National Fire Plan, were funding a series
of biomass utilization feasibility studies in the
area around Lake Tahoe. Were also funding
a biomass-to-ethanol and electricity cogeneration
project near Quincy to create a market for wood
from removed hazardous fuels.
There will also be large-scale forest health restoration
projects, including prescribed burns and large-scale
monitoring projects. So there will be more and more
opportunities for working with local communities
on all kinds of projects designed to maintain and
restore ecosystem health on public lands.
We already have some special authorities for the
work we need to do. For example, the Forest Services
stewardship projects are an alternative to traditional
timber sales. They give us more flexibility for
removing small trees for healthier forests. We also
have large-scale watershed projects that let us
work with partners to restore healthy watersheds
on a landscape level. We need more tools like these
to bypass the gridlock. If we can work together
on a landscape level for the long-term health of
the land, then we can avoid ESA listings and the
problems that followthose stark, divisive
choices we have become all too familiar with over
In closing, let me just summarize my main points:
- First, our focus has shifted from outputs to
outcomes. Today, the role of the Forest Service
is to restore and maintain healthy ecosystems
to meet the needs of present and future generations.
- Second, the outcomes are too often not what
we want. Many national forest lands are healthy,
but many are not. In fact, the scope of our forest
health problems is enormous.
- Third, as professional land managers we know
what the land needs. Too often, though, we cant
do the needed work because were tied up
in procedures that are beyond our control.
- Fourth, we need to get beyond the gridlock if
we want healthy lands. We need new ways of working
together for a desired future condition on the
land, for outcomes that all Americans want.
That brings me to my final point. I think we have
a historic opportunity to establish a consensus
based on what unites us. In times of crisis, Americans
have always pulled together. Were seeing it
happen again after the tragic events at the Pentagon
and World Trade Center.
We face a forest health crisis. I think its
time we got together behind a common agenda for
restoring the national forests to health. Our goal
should be to strike the right balance between social,
economic, and ecological sustainability using approaches
that are citizen-centered, results-oriented, and
market-based. For example, I think we can use community-developed
restoration and monitoring projects to stimulate
new businesses and create new jobs on the national
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 TVA, NASA, and the Manhattan
Project all come to mind. I think its time
we did something similar for our public lands. If
we can start working together based on what unites
usfor the health of the landI think
we can get there.