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Building Capacity for Community-Based Stewardship
Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth
Retirees' Reunion
Portland , OR — September 8, 2005

Thanks, Bob. It’s a pleasure to be here at the reunion. I was at the last one, too, five years ago in Missoula, where I was Regional Forester at the time, and the one before that in Park City, when I was RF in Region 4. By the time the next one of these comes around, I guess I’ll be sitting in the audience with you.

Anyway, it does feel a little different being up here as Chief, especially after having served under many of you and having looked up to you and admired your leadership. It feels a little like being a bug under a microscope. “Oh, yeah, let’s go see what Bosworth is doing these days to mess things up.” I would ask you to remember, though, that you’re the ones who trained me, so if I’m messing things up, who exactly is to blame?

Seriously, this is a special reunion year, because it coincides with our centennial. It’s a year for reflecting on where we’ve been, what we’re doing now, and where we’re headed in the future. I’d like to make a few comments along these lines, then invite Sally Collins to come up here with me and have both of us available to take potshots at—I mean, to take questions.

Hurricane Katrina
Before I start talking about the past year and the past century, I want to say a few words about the past week or two, because I’m sure the tragic events on the Gulf Coast are on all of our minds. As you might imagine, the Forest Service is heavily involved in the aftermath of Katrina, and I want to fill you in.

We, too, were directly affected by the storm. About 2 million acres of national forest land in Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi were hit, with the worst damage on 425,000 acres in southern Mississippi. Obviously, the safety and well-being of our employees was our first priority, and with the phones down and so many roads closed, we dispatched six two-person teams to the area to account for our personnel.

I’m very happy to report that all of our employees are safe, including those from the Station, and that there have been no serious injuries. However, many of our employees’ homes were damaged, and some were totally lost. We are putting together a list of those affected and their needs, and the National Forest Foundation is setting up a fund so our own employees and retirees nationwide can contribute to those in Region 8 who need our help.

Beyond our own organization, the needs are just beyond belief, and we’re helping out in a number of ways. As you know, there are hundreds of thousands of people in the region who were displaced by the storm and flooding, and they need places to stay. We’ve opened up our campgrounds in Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Texas by waiving fees and stay limits. Region 8 has also indentified 10 possible locations for “transition camps” that could hold about a thousand people each, much like a fire camp. We’ve offered that as a possibility to FEMA and Homeland Security.

As you might expect, we’re also engaged in emergency response in a big, big way. In fact, this is probably the largest and most complex challenge our ICS has ever faced. We’ve got incident command posts and dispatch centers all across the Deep South, from Florida to Texas. We’re coordinating with other federal agencies, the military, and local officials as we take on mission assignments from FEMA, and there are enormous challenges.

Keep in mind that we’re already in a pretty heavy fire season out West. On Tuesday, we had 15 large fires nationwide, and we’ve had about 7.9 million acres burned so far, which is getting close to the total number of acres burned in 2000, which was a 50-year record. We’re at Preparedness Level 4, so we’ve got to make sure we keep the fire situation covered.

Still, we’ve been able to devote a whole lot of resources to Katrina. The numbers are in flux, but as of Monday, the fire community had 2,760 personnel dedicated to this effort, including 1,214 Forest Service employees. We had two area command teams, six type 1 incident management teams, three type 2 incident management teams, five logistics management teams, one planning team, 43 type 2 crews, and 11 aircraft all dedicated to Katrina.

But numbers alone don’t tell the story. Right after the hurricane hit, we deployed an incident management team to the airport in New Orleans. Their task was to manage a makeshift hospital to treat critically ill and dying patients. That’s not something we normally do, but our folks made it work. Supply trucks weren’t getting through, so the IC went out and purchased enough medical supplies to keep the hospital afloat. He also managed to stretch out the hotdogs and other food to keep about 10,000 displaced people fed as they passed through the airport.

Speaking of supply trucks, we had serious problems getting our own trucks through. At one point, we had more than 200 trucks loaded with supplies for our distribution sites, and they never made it. It turned out that they were commandeered by local sheriffs and other officials for their own communities. Now we have our law enforcement involved. We’ve got about 40 LEOs from R-8 and another 70 from other regions to protect folks and make sure supplies get delivered.

We’re also contributing indirectly through past training. You probably remember that we helped out in New York City after 9/11, and that the New York Police Department was so impressed that they asked for training in ICS. Based on that training, 325 firefighters are arriving in New Orleans, together with all their vehicles and equipment. They’re relieving the New Orleans Fire Department, and we connected all the pieces to make it happen.

So I’m really proud of our fire organization for being so effective in this crisis. You might not hear about it in the news, partly because the scope of this disaster is so tremendous. But we’re making a huge effort, and I’m really proud of our organization for stepping up to the plate and doing such a great job of helping out so many people in their time of need.

Folklife Festival

Now let me turn to some other things. As you know, this is our centennial year, and we’ve had a number of events all over the country to celebrate our past, discuss where we are today, and look to the future. Maybe you’ve been to some of them. One that coincided with our actual hundredth birthday on July 1 was the Smithsonian Folklife Festival on the National Mall in Washington, DC. Let me just say a few words about it, because I think it did us proud as an organization.

In honor of our centennial, we had the rare privilege of being invited by the Smithsonian Institution to be one of three or four features at its annual folklife festival. About a million people come to the festival each year, so it was a great opportunity to showcase our history and culture and reach out to the public with conservation messages. I think our folks did an outstanding job.

We brought together over 90 employees, retirees, and others associated with our occupations and culture and, in a broader sense, with America’s forests. From the opening ceremony on—for the whole two weeks—there was a real sense of pride to be part of the Forest Service family. We had some exceptionally talented people demonstrating their skills and talking with folks about what they do in their jobs. And, of course, there was some fabulous music by our employees, including the Fiddlin’ Foresters, who we will hear later on, Riders in the Dirt, and many others.

As most of you probably know, I’ve been in the outfit practically my whole life, and I remember what some consider the glory days of the past. Some might be tempted to think, remembering those days, that the spirit of conservation and the spirit of the Forest Service that we all grew up with are fading or already gone. I think the Folklife Festival proved that wrong. The folks out there on the ground today are just as smart and just as dedicated—if not more so—than you and I were when we were in their shoes. So I think we’re on the right track, and by the time I’m finished talking here today, I hope you’ll see my point.

Conservation Successes

I’ll start by talking a little about our past. We kicked off the year with a Centennial Congress in Washington, DC, and it was a great opportunity to reflect on our history. It was timed to coincide with the anniversary of the first American Forest Congress exactly a hundred years before. That first American Forest Congress was also held in Washington, DC, with delegates coming from all over the country—and from as far away as the Philippines.

The first American Forest Congress faced daunting challenges. President Theodore Roosevelt addressed the Congress, and he spoke of forests in trouble. He spoke of timber profiteers whose only idea was, and I quote, “to skin the country and go somewhere else.” He spoke of the old pioneer days, when, and I quote, “the American had but one thought about a tree, and that was to cut it down.”

Some folks didn’t like hearing T.R. put it so bluntly, but it was basically true. Gifford Pinchot later wrote that most Americans at the time thought that our natural resources were unlimited and that only a fool would bother to manage them. Through attitudes like these, we lost about a quarter of America’s entire forest estate in the first three centuries of our history as a nation.

But T.R. also spoke of hope. He challenged the delegates to figure out how they could continue using the nation’s resources without destroying them, and we all know what happened next. With the birth of conservation and the Forest Service, we’ve had some remarkable successes over the last century.

Thanks to conservation, the old wasteful attitude toward forests has changed. We no longer think of trees as just standing timber. In my lifetime alone, we’ve seen a huge shift in values and attitudes. Today, our focus has broadened. We now focus on the long-term health of entire forested landscapes.

As a result, the way we go about managing forests and harvesting trees today is light years ahead of where it was a century ago … or even 25 to 30 years ago. And it’s truly paid off: In the last century, America’s forest estate has stayed roughly the same, with little or no net loss nationwide.

That’s in good part thanks to the dedication and accomplishments of you in this room. I, for one, am proud of your accomplishments on behalf of the Forest Service. I think America owes you a debt of gratitude.

Skinning the Country

But does that mean we no longer just “skin the country and go somewhere else,” as T.R. put a century ago? Yes … and no. Today, the cut-and-run logger of the 19 th century would be hard to find in the United States . That’s partly because the Forest Service has successfully modeled more sustainable kinds of forestry.

But still … as a nation, as a matter of fact, some of us have found subtler ways of skinning the country. If you drive in any direction from almost any major city in the United States , you will soon see signs of it. Working farms, working ranches, and working forests are giving way to development. Nationwide, we’re losing more than 4,000 acres of open space to development every day. Our families are getting smaller, yet we’re building bigger houses, mostly from wood. And more and more of that wood is coming from overseas.

The “land skinner” today is not the American timber producer. Professional forestry in the United States is one of the 20 th century’s greatest conservation success stories. Our forests today, especially on public land, enjoy some of the world’s greatest environmental protections.

But I’m afraid we still might be skinning the country—somebody’s country, anyway—when we import lumber from places with fewer environmental protections. Out of sight, out of mind—but that doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. When we import wood from some places, I’m afraid we promote unsustainable forestry practices … illegal logging … deforestation.

Ironically, the opposite also holds true. The Forest Service is working with producers in tropical countries like Brazil to generate high-value specialty woods like teak. Through reduced-impact logging, this can be done in a sustainable way, and it gives local communities a chance to live from sustainable forestry by selling certified wood.

But some people in the developed world now avoid buying any tropical wood at all for fear of contributing to tropical deforestation. When that happens, folks in Brazil still have to feed their families, so they simply cut down the rainforest, burn the wood, and plant soybeans. It’s a classic example of good intentions with unintended consequences … or, to put it in a more technical way, perverse market incentives driven by a misguided consumption ethic.

Four Threats
This goes to the heart of what I think is a major conservation conundrum in the United States: On the one hand, we face some huge environmental threats, like loss of open space at home or deforestation abroad; on the other hand, we have well-intentioned folks in the general public—folks who are genuinely committed to conservation, as I think most Americans are—who think that the main problems we face come from logging and roadbuilding on federal land.

I think we need to address these misconceptions if conservation is ever going to get anywhere today. That’s why, a few years back, we started focusing on what I call the Four Threats. These are major ecological disasters in the making. I know you’re pretty familiar with them, but let me just say a few words about each one:

  • First, there’s fire and fuels. We have got to restore our fire-adapted forests to something more resembling their condition at the time of European settlement. Our goal cannot be to keep the overly dense forested landscapes we have today unchanged for all time. That’s impossible, anyway, and the next big fire or insect infestation will only prove it. Our goal has to be to restore the dynamic ecological processes that our forested landscapes evolved with. That includes disturbances such as fire.
  • Another huge threat comes from invasive species, both to our native ecosystems and to our pocketbooks. According to one study, invasive species have contributed to the decline of 49 percent of our imperiled species nationwide. That makes invasives the single greatest threat to biodiversity there is, and it comes at an enormous cost: By one estimate, all invasives combined cost Americans about $138 billion per year in total economic damages and associated control costs.
  • I’ve already touched on the third major threat: loss of open space. It affects working forests, too. About 60 percent of our timber production today comes from the South, yet some southern states are steadily losing forest cover. Florida, Louisiana, and Texas combined have had a net forest loss of almost 11 million acres since the 1960s. From 1990 to 2002, North Carolina had a net loss of about a million acres of forest land, mostly due to urban development. North Carolina has less forest cover today than ever before in its recorded history.
  • The fourth threat has to do with outdoor recreation, particularly the use of off-highway vehicles. In recent decades, OHV use on national forest land has grown from next to nothing to something like 11 or 12 million visits a year. Last year, we figure we had more than 14,000 miles of user-created trails and more than 780,000 acres of user-created OHV use areas. That’s a lot of damage, and it costs a lot to repair. We have got to do a better job of managing that use.

Finding Solutions

One reason we’re emphasizing the Four Threats is to help turn around the public debate. But we’ve also got to do something about these threats, and we are:

  • With respect to fire and fuels, this is fortunately an administration priority. Our fuels treatment program took a big hit following the Cerro Grande escaped prescribed fire in 2000, but we’ve completely turned that around. In fiscal 2004, we treated more than 1.8 million acres, the most ever. All federal agencies combined treated some 4.2 million acres, another record number. We came in at about 16 percent above target, and about 60 percent of that was in the WUI. So we’re making good progress, and I see that continuing.
  • When it comes to invasive species, we’ve got some good partnership programs with the states, such as “Slow-the-Spread” for gypsy moth in the Northeast and Cooperative Weed Management Areas out West. But I think there’s general agreement that we have to move beyond a species-by-species approach to an all-taxa approach across the landscape. Toward that end, we’ve developed an National Strategy and Implementation Plan for Invasive Species Management.
  • A good way to conserve open space is to keep working ranches and forests in operation, and our State and Private Forestry is taking the lead in this. We have some good programs for that, such as our Forest Legacy Program and our grass-banking schemes. We’re currently mapping forested watersheds at risk nationwide so we know where to focus our resources. We’re also exploring the feasibility of creating markets for ecosystem services such as carbon sequestration, biodiversity protection, and water delivery. Payments for ecosystem services would supplement the income that private landowers get from traditional forest and rangeland products, giving them more of an incentive to stay on the land and manage it sustainably rather than sell it to developers.
  • With respect to unmanaged recreation, we proposed a rule to better manage OHV use. The new rule applies to national forests and grasslands that allow motorized use. It requires them to work with partners to designate a system of roads, trails, and areas for motorized use. The focus is on better inventory and maps, more public involvement, clearer standards and guidelines in forest plans, clearer signage, better communication, and more local partnerships for road maintenance. A very positive sign is that we’re getting support for the new rule from both environmental groups and user groups like the Blue Ribbon Coalition. Of course, the really tough decisions will be hammered out in local travel management plans, so our folks in the field have their work cut out for them.

Collaborative Context
That gets to the crux of the matter, which is partnerships. I believe that our success in dealing with the Four Threats depends on help from our partners, and for that we need a context that is conducive to collaboration. Our management context has changed enormously over the last 15 or 20 years. Let me just go into that for a minute, because it affects everything we do.

In a way, it all started with science, and our Research and Development played a huge role in that. When I was starting out, as many of you probably remember, our focus was mainly on managing for single resources such as water, timber, minerals, forage, and wildlife, by which we largely meant sportfish and game.

That was about the time when our researchers began “connecting the dots,” so to speak. They began seeing the interconnectedness of forest and grassland resources all across the landscape. They began thinking holistically in terms of ecosystems, and they helped us translate those insights into new management approaches—New Forestry, ecosystem management, and so forth.

Along with that came a revolution in technology. I have to admit, it took me some time to accept some of the new technologies. When I started out, we were still managing with some pretty basic tools. It worked pretty well at the time, and I believe it’s still critically important to get out on the ground.

But it’s equally important to recognize all the advantages we’ve gotten from the new technologies. Today, we have PCs, e-mail, and Internet … GPS and GIS … and modeling systems unheard of a generation ago. We can do things like timber cruises much quicker than ever before, getting more done with fewer resources. And that gives our folks more time to get out on the ground, not less.

We also have the ability to collect, sort, store, and utilize data better than ever before. That gives us more power than ever before to understand complex ecological functions and processes; to communicate with our partners about them; and to plan our management actions accordingly. We also have more power than ever before to monitor and to quickly adapt our management.

As a result, we are able to conceptualize and plan more holistically and collaboratively and on a broader scale than ever before—on a landscape or watershed scale, and across jurisdictions. Public values have also changed, and our management focus has changed accordingly. The 1990s were a period of transition away from the postwar focus on timber extraction. Our main focus today is on sustainable stewardship, ecological restoration, and outdoor recreation.

Our political climate has also changed. Folks aren’t looking so much to government for solutions anymore, and that has a couple of implications for us. For one thing, it affects our budgets. Except for the additional funding we got through the National Fire Plan, our budgets have been pretty flat, and I expect they’ll stay that way. So our discretionary funds—the money we can use to pay for projects on the ground—is gradually being eaten up by inflation and step increases.

On the positive side, our partnership opportunities are maybe better than ever. For example, we have some pretty powerful organizations out there willing to work with us to get things done on the ground—organizations like the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, the National Wild Turkey Federation, The Nature Conservancy, and the Trust for Public Lands, just to name a few.

So this is the context we work in today, and it raises a basic question for our management: How can we pull everyone together who might be interested in our decisions, come to some agreement based on common goals, then use all the means at our disposal to get results on the ground? It all comes down to collaboration. In today’s management context, I believe that success is predicated on collaboration, and we’re taking a collaborative approach in various ways all across the Forest Service. It’s called community-based forestry or community-based stewardship.

The trick is to build capacity for community-based stewardship by removing some of the obstacles left over from the management context we were in a generation ago. That’s more or less why we tackled process gridlock, revised the planning rule, and revisited roadless area conservation. Let me explain that a bit more for each of these three areas.

Process Gridlock
First, process gridlock. In my view, this is not a problem with our environmental laws. I believe we need those laws to give us national sideboards for sound natural resource management. This is not a problem, either, with processes per se. We’ve always had standards, processes, and procedures to help us with our planning and management, and we need them.

The problem, as I see it, is twofold. First, if a process or procedure becomes an end in itself rather than a means to achieve desired outcomes on the ground, then it becomes a problem. For example, when we spend a lot of time putting together a study that nobody will ever use, then we’re not doing justice to the taxpayer, to the resources we manage, or to the people we serve.

Maybe even worse, a process can sometimes become a barrier to achieving results on the ground. One example is the old appeals process. Groups that never had any intention of sitting down with everyone else and hammering out an agreement sometimes used the appeals process to block an agreement from taking effect. Years of community collaboration sometimes went for naught, frustrating and demoralizing everyone concerned—except for those few obstructionists. This was the opposite of community-based forestry, and it had to be fixed.

The whole Healthy Forests Initiative and the Healthy Forests Restoration Act were designed to help us get rid of some of the process gridlock. We’ve gotten several new CEs and new counterpart regulations. We have new authorities for stewardship contracting and for working with communities to implement plans for fuels treatment. We have a whole range of things we didn’t have a few years ago to give us more capacity for community-based stewardship. And if we’re smart about using that capacity, then folks will eventually see results they like and some of the controversy will disappear.

Planning Rule
Something similar goes for our new planning rule. The original planning rule of 1982 was designed at a time when our focus was on producing timber and mitigating the impacts so we could still deliver all the uses and values people want from national forest land. I believe it resulted in a good first generation of forest plans. We did the best we could with the knowledge, capacities, and public expectations we had at the time.

But times have changed, and so has the way we manage the land. We needed a new planning rule that looks to the future, and we made a good start with the 2000 Planning Rule. But parts of it still focused too much, in my view, on mitigating the impacts of the way we managed the land in the past. We weren’t focused enough on building capacity for collaboration, so we decided to take another look at the rule. We kept a lot of the 2000 Rule but modified it to make the forest planning process more collaborative.

For example, the new planning rule encourages upfront collaboration with the public, partly by reforming the appeals process, partly by shortening the whole planning process. If you can’t finish a forest plan in a couple of years, you can’t keep the public involved. The only parties who can afford to keep coming for 8 or 10 years are the ones who can pay, like industry or environmental groups. By taking less time, we can better ensure that everyone gets a chance to be involved.

The new rule does that by reducing the amount of analysis we need while giving us more auditing and upfront monitoring. The new rule also focuses on using the best science. It focuses on monitoring through environmental management systems to make sure we’re doing what we say we’re doing by getting a third party to look at our work and evaluate the outcomes.

All this does represent a big change from the way we did planning back in the 70s and 80s. Some people might be unhappy about that—maybe even some of you in this room—and their discomfort is perfectly understandable. Change brings with it a certain level of discomfort. But our job now is to do it right. If we do, then people will see that, and in a few years their level of comfort will be much higher. We have to show results before people will be convinced.

Roadless Conservation
With respect to roadless area conservation, I am a strong advocate for protecting roadless values. I believe that most inventoried roadless areas on national forest land ought to stay roadless, and I think most people would probably agree. I see a growing consensus on the need to have some kind of designation between wilderness areas and general forest areas.

But how we go about doing that is just as important as what we do. The last 40 years have shown that very clearly. Three times in the last 40 years, we tried to get a national consensus on what to do about inventoried roadless areas. Each time, it took a lot of vision and courage to take on this issue. Still, each time we failed because one side or the other felt disenfranchized.

The latest rule is an effort to finally break that pattern. It’s worth remembering that roadless areas on national forest land are already well protected. In fact, many of them are designated for special protection in our forest plans, and nobody is talking about going in and developing these areas. All we’re talking about is giving them additional protection through a rulemaking.

But if we want to succeed, we’ve got to do it collaboratively. We want the states to prepare petitions in collaboration with all interested parties, including local and tribal governments. We want to give everyone who cares about this issue plenty of opportunities to get involved. The governors will then go to the Secretary and present their ideas on how to give roadless areas additional protections. Then we will work with the states to ensure that our own goals for protecting roadless values are met. Finally, if the Secretary accepts a petition, we’ll formulate a corresponding rule.

This won’t turn over the final decisionmaking authority to the states, but we’re hoping that it will resolve the roadless issue in a collaborative way. Again, the idea is to build more capacity for community-based stewardship. We want folks to feel included in our decisionmaking—to feel like the solution came from the bottom up instead of being imposed on them from the top down. I think that’s the only way we’re ever going to finally get this issue behind us in a constructive way.

Future Challenges to Conservation
So these are some of the challenges we’ve been dealing with—the Four Threats, process gridlock, the planning rule, and roadless area conservation. But it also behooves us to think ahead, particularly in this centennial year, and I see additional challenges on the horizon. Let me just outline a few:

  • Dealing with a growing population. In the last hundred years, we have more than tripled our population to 275 million, and it just keeps on growing. By the turn of the next century, we are projected to have 571 million Americans. That has huge implications for our water resources alone. Some of our fastest growing areas are some of our driest.
  • Expressing the changing face of America. Most of that population increase will come through immigration, so the trends we’ve seen toward urbanization and ethnic diversity are only going to continue. Conservation belongs to all of our citizens, yet the face of conservation has traditionally been rural, male, and white. We need to give Americans from every background more opportunities to participate in conservation. We’ve got to broaden the circle of conservation.
  • Supporting our land ethic with a strong consumption ethic. Americans want it all—recreation opportunities, access, clean water, wildlife, and scenery, plus inexpensive two-by-fours and printer paper. Last year, Americans consumed wood products at record levels, and we remain the largest wood-consuming nation on earth. Yet we don’t want any changes in the landscape or any commercial operations on public land. If we truly believe in a land ethic, then we must also demonstrate a consumption ethic. That goes especially for the Forest Service. Others will follow our leadership only if we practice the conservation we preach.
  • Restoring the health of so many of our watersheds, along with our deteriorating infrastructure. We have a huge backlog of watershed restoration projects on national forest land. We’ve got thousands of deteriorating culverts to replace. We’ve got roads to restore, abandoned mines to reclaim, streams to repair, vegetation to treat, and all kinds of deferred maintenance and ecological restoration to catch up on.
  • Understanding and coping with long-term and large-scale climate changes. I don’t think there’s much doubt anymore that this is a very serious long-term threat, both regionally and globally. For example, we’re in a much drier period out West than we were 30 years ago. This has huge social, economic, and ecological implications. And climate change is one of the reasons we’re starting to look at markets for ecosystem services, particularly carbon sequestration.
  • Addressing the challenge of global forestry markets. Another reason we’re looking at the feasibility of markets for ecosystem services is that our domestic timber supplies are in decline. It’s often cheaper to import wood from overseas than to produce it here at home. Where the United States was once a net exporter of softwood lumber, imports now cover 30 to 40 percent of our needs. That means we’re losing milling capacity, particularly out West. From 1986 to 2003, we lost 46 percent of our capacity in the West, and in the Southern Rockies it was up to 60 percent. We need that capacity for sustainable forest management, so we’ve got to do something to stop the hemorrhage.

Grounds for Hope
These challenges are enormous. But I do see grounds for hope—the same hope for the future of conservation that inspired Theodore Roosevelt at that first American Forest Congress a century ago. Our Centennial Congress gave similar reason for hope, so let me come back to it now before closing.

We stand at the beginning of a whole new century of issues. We don’t even know for sure what the main issues will be 20 years from now, but we do know this: We’re in a new management context. Our way of dealing with issues in the past through top-down approaches and through conflict and gridlock doesn’t work. We need to find new models for dealing with the issues we face today and the ones we’ll face in 20 years, whatever they might be.

That’s what the Centennial Congress and the regional forums we had last year were about. They were about finding new models for dealing with issues. How we approach each other is key. Do folks from outside the Forest Service come to the agency to get us to give them the solutions? Or do they come to us to help them work out the solutions for themselves?

The Centennial Congress was a model of the latter. The participants focused on major issues that will matter for years to come, like ecosystem services, partnerships, and conservation education. But the way the Congress framed these issues was particularly important. The participants focused on building our role at the Forest Service as a convenor and facilitator instead of a top-down director of everything that happens. They focused on the need for engaging folks in finding solutions for themselves, because they are the ones who are out there on the land and can truly make a difference. They focused on community-based stewardship.

The Forest Service doesn’t necessarily have to always take the lead in this. I believe that our role in the 21st century will be to facilitate a collective commitment to conservation. The possibilities for collaboration are endless, but the only way to resolve the issues that truly matter in the long term will be through a collective commitment to conservation. So the best way we can care for the land and serve people today is to build more capacity for community-based stewardship.

Our National Leadership Team understands that, folks in the field understand that, and that’s clearly the direction we’re headed. So I think we are on the right track for the future.

Trajectory Toward Conservation
That brings me back to the Folklife Festival I talked about at the outset of my remarks. I said it showed a tremendous spirit of conservation … of collaboration … of Forest Service family. I said it showed that we are on the right track for the future, and that I hoped you would see my point.

Those of us who remember the way things used to be might be tempted to see all the changes we’ve had in the last 15 or 20 years and think things aren’t going well for conservation. But it’s worth remembering that things have always been changing for the Forest Service. We were born at a time of tremendous change a century ago. When we first launched ourselves on a trajectory toward conservation, we faced a whole lot of skepticism about what we were doing.

And the skeptics and the naysayers and the challenges never went away. Not in the 30s, with the Depression, when we helped support the CCC. Not in the war years, when we helped support our troops. Not during the postwar timber boom, when we helped support the American dream of home ownership. Not during the environmental battles of the 70s and 80s. And not now, either, when we face the Four Threats and all the other challenges I just mentioned.

But through it all, we prevailed, in good part thanks to you—thanks to your vision, your dedication, your commitment to conservation. We prevailed through our spirit of Forest Service family … of dedication to community … of working together with the people we serve to care for the lands that belong to them so that future generations will have these lands, too.

And I believe strongly that we’re still on the same trajectory toward conservation today that we were a century ago. It’s a trajectory of caring for the land and serving people through collaboration … of building capacity for community-based stewardship.

We’re not all the way there yet. Maybe we never will be. But the important thing is that we’re still on course.

I hope you see my point.

US Forest Service
Last modified March 29, 2013

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