USDA Forest Service
for Partnerships With Universities
National Association of State Universities
and Land Grant Colleges, Annual Meeting
Chief Dale Bosworth, USDA Forest Service
Washington, D.C.November 12, 2001
It's a pleasure for me to be here. I'd like to
thank Dr. Alfred Sullivan for inviting me. For me,
this is a welcome opportunity to strengthen a very
fruitful partnership we've had at the Forest Service
with the state universities and land grant colleges.
I appreciate this opportunity for a dialogue with
Future Focal Areas
Dr. Sullivan asked me to address a couple of topics:
Where does the Forest Service need to place resources
to meet future needs? And how can the universities
help? Frankly, I don't see any one-size-fits-all
prescription. Forest Service folks serve state and
private landowners on some 490 million acres of
forest land. Those ownerships all face different
challenges. We also manage 155 national forests
and grasslands, every one with a different set of
resources and user groups. For example, the Angeles
National Forest right outside Los Angeles obviously
serves different needs than, say, the Bitterroot
National Forest in the Northern Rockies, which is
mostly backcountry and wilderness.
Besides, there are 105 different land grant institutions.
They all have different things to offer. For example,
Washington State University focuses on different
things than the University of the District of Columbia.
But they all have something important to offer for
the future of conservation in America.
With that said, there are some general challenges
we all face:
- First, we have a very severe forest health crisis,
especially in the Interior West. We will need
to focus national efforts on restoring our ailing
ecosystems to health.
- Second, there have been a lot of changes in
our nation over the last 40 years. We need to
find new and better ways of delivering services
and information to the American people.
For those of you not in natural resources, I'd
like to summarize these challenges. Then I'll outline
some of the opportunities I see for us to work together
to resolve some of these issues.
First, we have a very severe forest health crisis.
Here are some of the signs:
- Since the mid-1980s, our fire seasons have generally
been getting worse. On the national forests alone,
about 73 million acres are at risk from wildland
fires that could compromise human safety and ecosystem
- Other forest health threats are also getting
worse. On all ownerships, 70 million acres are
at severe risk from insects and pathogens. Invasives
add to the problemgypsy moth, Asian long-horned
beetle, the list goes on and on.
- These forest health problems are intertwined.
Decades of fire suppression have often produced
overcrowded vegetation in our forests, weakening
the trees. Especially during drought, the weakened
trees are prone to fire and more susceptible to
pests and pathogens. Too often, the result is
soil erosion and habitat degradation, especially
in sensitive areas such as streams, lakes, and
So we do have a severe forest health crisis. But
that's not all. The challenges we face are even
more complicated. Changes over the last 40 years
have raised new issues:
- Americans have come to use their national forests
and grasslands mainly for recreation. We figure
the number of recreational visits has grown 15
to 20 times since 1945. Last year, we had some
209 million recreational visits-that's a lot of
recreational pressure on our roads, trails, campgrounds,
streams, and lakes. Meanwhile, our funding has
not kept pace. The result has been a tremendous
maintenance backlog-about $716 million last year.
- Another trend is the growing wildland/urban
interface. People are steadily moving from the
cities into rural wildlands in search of a better
quality of life. The 2000 census shows that out
of the top 10 fastest growing States, 7 are in
the West. Many of these folks surround their homes
with dense vegetation. I guess it gives a feeling
of isolation in the woods. But it also increases
the fire hazard.
- Here's a third trend: an insistence on leaving
nature alone. Some people see lots of trees in
the woods and think things must be great. Literally,
they can't see the forest for the treesthey
don't see the ecological processes that are gnawing
away at the thing they love. So when we try to
treat the forest, they take us to court. We might
be tied up for years. By then, it might be too
late. Maybe a fire has come through, for example,
and destroyed what we were trying to protect.
- A fourth trend is demographic. Americans are
becoming older on average and more racially and
ethnically diverse. By the year 2050, a majority
will no longer be of European ancestry. A challenge
for us at the Forest Service is to extend our
services to all of our diverse communities.
So these are some of the problems I see: not enough
focus on underserved communities; a misplaced public
faith in the forest primeval; rising pressures from
homeowners and recreational users; and fuel buildups
in overgrown forests. But we do have opportunities
to work together to meet the challenges. I'd like
to spend the rest of my time talking about some
of the things we're doing together and some of the
opportunities I see for maybe doing even more.
The Forest Service has three main program areas,
each with a somewhat different focusthe National
Forest System; State and Private Forestry; and Research.
I'd like to highlight some of the partnerships we've
had with you in these different program areas. I
think we can expand these partnerships and even
imagine some new ways of working together. I'll
break my remarks into the three parts of the land
grant mission: education, research, and extension.
First, education. Obviously, we hire folks who
graduate from your universities, so we care about
what they learn. We also have units collocated with
the universities, and our researchers sometimes
I think we need to look at our educational collaboration
more broadly. There are some disciplines that we
need to mutually addressfor example, forest
entomology and forest pathology. With the expansion
of global trade, more and more exotics are being
introduced. We've seen things like chestnut blight,
gypsy moth, and sudden oak death ravage our native
forests. Somewhere between the universities and
the Forest Service, we need to work together to
ensure that the critical disciplinary bases are
covered. We need to meet the challenge of invasive
species in every state and in every forest type
at risk across the nation.
We need broad training for future natural resource
managers in other disciplines as well. Our funding
will be limited; that's just a fact. But we still
need to provide services, so we need to leverage
other funding. One way is through partnerships.
For that, we will need employees not only with technical
backgrounds, but also with social and communications
skills. We need folks who can work with partners
to serve recreational visitors and local communities,
for example to reduce fire risk in the wildland/urban
interface. For that, we'll need your help. Your
capacity in the social sciences and the communications
field goes way beyond ours.
Our scientists can teach classes in some disciplines,
and maybe your scientists can collaborate with our
researchers in others. We already do this now, but
we need to do it more. I'd like to know from you
how we can jointly use our scarce resources better.
For example, are there administrative barriers to
collaboration that need to be addressed?
The issues we face on the national forests and
grasslands are constantly changing; the problems
are getting more complex. We need to work together
to provide lifelong learning opportunities for our
employees in a wide range of disciplines. We already
have some joint programs for continuing education.
Examples include the Silviculture Institute, with
Oregon State University and the University of Washington;
and TREES, with the University of Idaho, Northern
Arizona University, and Colorado State University.
I think we need more programs like these.
Second, let me say a little about research. We
are engaged in a wide variety of research agreements,
joint proposals, and other activities. For example,
on the Fort Valley Experimental Forest in Arizona,
we are working with researchers from the Environmental
Restoration Initiative at Northern Arizona University
to experiment with prescribed fire and thinning.
I think we ought to have similar projects in every
forest type at risk in the United States.
We are also engaged in broad monitoring studies
to track long-term changes in ecosystem health at
the landscape level. One example is our system of
Forest Inventory and Analysis. University researchers
are helping us develop new inventory techniques
and analyze data. We value that partnership. I want
to see it continue and grow.
In fact, there are lots of research opportunities
for your researchers and your students on our experimental
forests, ranges, watersheds, and research natural
areas. Maybe we need to better publicize these opportunities
through tours and the Internet.
Third, I'll say a little about extension. We have
a long history of extension partnerships with the
universities, especially through our State and Private
Forestry. One of the greatest challenges we face
today is public education on a host of natural resource
issues. I think we need joint educational programs
that are unbiased and don't just lecture, that include
listening and learning on our part, too.
We've made a start through successful programs
on reducing fire hazards in the wildland/urban interface.
But we need to do a lot more to help folks understand
what's going on the woods and what we need to do
about it. I think we ought to think about the key
extension issues that our organizations should jointly
address and then develop some joint activities.
We're wide open to suggestions.
Training Our Future Leaders
Finally, there's one area of opportunity I'd really
like to stress-our changing workforce. In the next
few years, a lot of folks will be leaving the federal
workforce. Our retirees can offer all kinds of experience
and expertise that you might be able to tap into
as additional resources for your schools. And it
works both ways. To replace the folks who are leaving,
the Forest Service will be hiring many new employees.
We will look to you to train our future leaders.
So I would ask you to consider these suggestions:
- Show your students ecosystems in crisis. Show
them what is happening on the ground today and
explain how decisions made long ago affect what
is going on. This will give your students the
perspective they need to be future leaders.
- Train students in the scientific method. Help
them learn how to create new science. Show them
how to use science as a foundation for management
decisions. This will give your students the knowledge
they need to practice science-based land management.
- Show the students how to work effectively with
landowners and land managers to solve problems
on the ground. Help them develop their interpersonal
skills. Give them experience working in teams.
Demonstrate to them the power of collaboration
and the importance of building consensus with
people from different backgrounds.
As you admit students, search hard for women and
minorities. America needs a Forest Service that
reflects all the gender and ethnic diversity we
see across the country. Right now, we don't have
the diversity in our workforce that we need if we
are to serve all Americans well. You can help. Without
you, we will not succeed in having a workforce that
represents all Americans.
For this reason, the Forest Service has adopted
specific universities for targeted recruitment efforts.
You'll be seeing us on your campuses more frequently
than in the past. When we come, please have us conduct
seminars. Let us help expose students to the changing
public needs and ecological conditions of today.
In closing, I'd like to commend America's state
universities and land grant colleges for doing so
many things over the yearsfor supporting our
research at forest experiment stations, for educating
future generations of natural resource managers,
and for helping us to look more like the ordinary
Americans we serve. I appreciate your scientific,
educational, and visionary contributions.
I think we've had a great partnership, and I look
forward to continuing it far into the future. I'm
sure there are ways of working together we haven't
even thought of yet. I'll leave you with one example,
a creative approach by a researcher at the University
of Arkansas. This researcher got a grant to look
at how the Forest Service might better integrate
our Rural Community Assistance Program with our
forest planning process. That kind of project makes
a lot of sense; ultimately, it can help a lot of
people. If we work together through projects like
this, if we leverage our mutual resources, I believe
the sky is the limit on what we can accomplish together.