USDA Forest Service
for Forestry Partnerships
Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth
Mississippi Public Lands Council
Jackson, Miss. November 27, 2001
I'd like to thank you for inviting me. It's an
honor to be here in Mississippi, in the heart of
the Deep South. I haven't seen much of the South,
having spent most of my life out West. But in the
past few days, I've finally had the opportunity
to travel a little in the South. It sure is beautiful
country. As a forester, I'm especially impressed
by the rich variety of forest types here.
Forests and forestry are what bring us together
here today. I'm proud to be a forester. I'm the
son of a forester; I guess you could say forestry
is in my blood. I believe that forestry is an honorable
profession with honorable people doing good things
on the ground.
With that said, foresters can sometimes have honest
differences about the goals of forestry on public
lands. That's why we need opportunities like this
for dialogue. We at the Forest Service might not
always see eye to eye on everything with all of
you here. But it's important, in my view, that we
have an open, honest dialogue. So I'm really glad
to be here.
I'd like to talk a little about where I see the
Forest Service headed and where I see some problems
and opportunities. Before I start, let me just say
I know that the Council represents many interests.
I'd like to keep my initial remarks pretty general,
then address your specific concerns later, maybe
during Q&A. And if they involve things I don't
know about personally, I hope you give us the chance
to get back to you later.
Our mission at the Forest Service has always been
sustainable forest management. Basically, that means
using natural resources in a way that doesn't compromise
their use by future generations. There's an analogy
to the laws some states have for regulating water
use. Those laws say you can use the water that flows
onto your land so long as the water that flows off
your land has the same quality. I think that makes
sense. In the same vein, sustainable forestry means
you can use your forests so long as the forests
you pass on to your children have the same quality.
So how can we use the public lands and still conserve
their quality for future generations? The answer
to that question has changed over time. At one time,
sustainable forestry meant a sustained yield of
timber. Today, it means more. It means sustaining
all the values and uses associated with the national
forests and grasslands. It means sustaining things
like clean water, good recreation opportunities,
abundant fish and wildlife, and yes
timber, range, and other renewable resources. So
our mission has shifted away from large-scale commodity
production. Our mission is now on outcomes, not
outputs. Our focus is on ecosystem health and restoration,
working in partnership with communities and individuals.
We understand that, and I'm sure you do, too. The
real question is, what are the opportunities in
Sustainability does not mean locking up public
lands. Sustainability has three components: social,
economic, and ecological. I think we need to strike
the right balance among the three. It's true that
healthy forest ecosystems are essential for community
health. But the converse is also true healthy
communities are essential for ecosystem health.
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.
A key task before us is to balance the need for
a healthy environment with the need to use some
of our natural resources in intelligent ways. 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
Part of that is engaging the American public in
honest and straightforward talk about the relationship
between the environment and resource consumption.
Americans consume twice the amount of wood per capita
as other developed countries and three times the
amount of the world as a whole. Our national appetite
for wood is growing: Per capita consumption of wood
rose by 16 percent between 1970 and 1997. We export
a lot of wood products, but we import even more.
We need to begin a national dialogue on how we
can live within our means. Obviously, we are still
going to do a lot of exporting and importing; but
when people say that we shouldn't cut any trees
on the national forests or drill for any oil or
extract any minerals, they need to be very clear
about what they are saying. Because what they are
really saying is that we should get a lot of the
stuff we use everyday from somebody else's backyard.
And that just doesn't make sense to me. I think
we need a national dialogue on this.
One problem has been convincing folks that active
management is needed. A lot of people who look at
the land and see lots of trees think everything
must be just fine. They think all we need to do
is to sit back and let nature take care of itself.
I wish it were that simple.
Many forests today are much different than they
originally were. I think that's true for the South
as well. Before the South was settled by Europeans,
there was a lot more fire, so the forests were generally
more open. There were savannahs and prairies in
some areas. I've even heard that bison ranged from
Virginia down to Georgia.
Since then, the landscape has evolved. In the South,
the forests were almost all cut down at one time
or another. In fact, most of the national forests
in the South are on cutover forest land or played-out
farmland. We restored healthy native forests on
those lands, and I'm proud of that.
But we still have problems. Fire exclusion gradually
took hold in the forests that remained or were restored.
Some fire-dependent forest types declined; on the
Coastal Plain in the South, longleaf pine is a familiar
example. Other forest types became more dense than
they were historically, when fire opened them up.
The result has been overcrowding, weakening trees
and making them more susceptible to pests such as
the southern pine beetle.
Nature has something to do with that, but not as
much as human activity. In fact, a lot of the changes
we've seen over the centuries have come from a combination
of human activity and neglect. So the answer isn't
Mother Nature. Just leaving the land alone won't
make the problems we have go away. We need active
management to restore our forests to health. That's
one of the big tasks I see ahead for us: Communicating
with the American people about what's going on in
the woods and what we need to do about it.
In fact, nationwide we have a forest health problem
of enormous proportions:
- 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 pathogens.
- Other symptoms of a forest health crisis include
the spread of invasive species and the degradation
of riparian habitat.
These problems affect us all. We know what to do,
and we've made a start. On national forest land,
we're returning fire to the ecosystem and 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 we're 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. That's 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
Congress has made a start by funding the National
Fire Plan. We've begun expanding our forest health
treatments, especially in wildland/urban interface
areas, in municipal watersheds, and in areas adjacent
to neighboring lands. We've also developed some
large-scale watershed projects to help us better
coordinate with our neighbors. So even though we
have a long way to go, I think we're on the right
track. It's something I'm absolutely committed to.
That brings me to another problem. As professional
foresters with some of the best forest science in
the world, we know what we need to do and we have
the will to do it. But often we are still not able
to get the work done because of institutional barriers.
Too often, we spend so much time just trying to
comply with laws, regulations, and procedures that
we can't do the necessary work on the ground. This
problem is sometimes called "analysis paralysis."
For example, the NEPA initiation and appeals phase
for a project, from scoping through the end of the
administrative appeals 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 to protect.
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.
The way things are set up, someone with a good
lawyer and an axe to grind can keep things tied
up for a long time. We might win in the end
our record in court has gotten better all the time
but 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.
So I think there's 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 it's 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. I
have put together a high-level team in the Forest
Service to explore ways of streamlining processes.
I think we need a national dialogue on this problem.
We're wide open for ideas!
We have already begun to make some progress. For
example, we have some proposals for categorical
exclusions that we're moving through the Federal
Register and public comment:
- One policy change would modify the definition
of extraordinary circumstances and clarify the
policy on recognizing that the presence of a listed
reference condition, such a TES species, would
automatically preclude the use of a CE.
- Three CEs will be added that would streamline
the process for changing or reissuing special
- We're adding at least one CE to let us move
ahead more efficiently with treating small-diameter
materials for forest health and fuels reduction,
for example under the National Fire Plan.
We're also doing work on appeal regulations to
make them more effective. This, along with the CE
changes, will allow us to be more responsive to
natural disasters and salvage needs.
In addition, we have some relief on projects under
expired forest plans. As part of the Appropriations
Act, Congress insulated the Forest Service from
litigation for violating the statutory requirement
for new forest plans every 15 years. In exchange,
we are providing Congress with a report showing
that we are moving expeditiously with revising forest
plans. A forest plan revision schedule is being
published in the Federal Register this month.
That brings me to some of the opportunities I see.
Let me just say, first off, that I think we need
a healthy forest products industry. The Forest Service
is not set up to handle a lot of the treatments
we need for fuels management and forest health.
We're going to need help. I see a lot of win/win
situations out there on the land, provided we can
come to some agreements.
I think it's clear we're going to need to do a
lot of thinning and even some salvage cutting on
national forest land. I understand that's been a
concern in Mississippi. Most of it won't 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, for example.
Through the National Fire Plan, we are working
with local communities to restore ecosystem health
on private and public lands. That means more jobs
for local communities. Here in Mississippi alone,
the Forest Service is spending almost $7.7 million
in National Fire Plan funds this year. Most of that
goes into firefighting preparedness and hazardous
fuel treatments. Some goes into forest health projects
and community assistance.
That brings me to a major point I'd like to make.
I think we have a historic opportunity to establish
a consensus based on what unites us, not what divides
us. In times of crisis, Americans have always pulled
together. We see it happening again after the events
of 9/11. I think it's time we got together behind
a common agenda for restoring the national forests
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 forests. I think the Southern Forest
Resource Assessment that was recently released for
public comment will be a valuable tool in helping
us strike the right balance.
When I was watching the election returns last year,
those red-and-blue maps they used really struck
me. Our rural and urban populations are ideologically
divided. As foresters, we serve both constituencies.
That gives us an opportunity to help bridge the
gap between them.
I think those of us interested in the future of
forestry need to start thinking more about what
unites us and less about what divides us. 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. If we can start working together based
on what unites us for the health of the land
I think we can get to where we need to go.