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A Tribute to Partnership in the Greater Yellowstone Area
Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth
Greater Yellowstone Public Lands Conference
Mammoth Hot Springs, WY— October 17, 2005

It’s a real privilege to be here tonight to give the opening keynote address. It’s an honor for the Forest Service, particularly this year, when we are celebrating our centennial. I understand the centennial film “The Greatest Good” about the history of the Forest Service was screened earlier today, and I hope you got a chance to see it, because I think it goes beyond our own history to issues that affect us all in federal land stewardship, such as managing fire and fuels … sustaining habitat for wildlife and fish … and, above all, working together through partnerships.

One reason it’s such a privilege to be here during our centennial year is that the Greater Yellowstone Area is where our first national park is located—and one of our first national forests—even before our agencies were created.

Interagency Partnership

I see my presence up here tonight as a tribute to the strength of our interagency partnership through the Greater Yellowstone Coordinating Committee. We started working together here in the GYA about 40 years ago. That’s pretty amazing, because it was a time when interagency collaboration was not encouraged, and not much of it was happening anywhere.

But we were starting to understand that ecological processes cross borders and boundaries, and we gradually came to realize that if we were truly interested in sustainable land management, then we had better start working together. And we’ve been doing so ever since through the GYCC. I understand that our partnership is now stronger than ever, thanks to the leaders who are on the committee and the strong relationships between them.

I had the honor of being associated with the GYCC in the 1990s, when I was Regional Forester for the Forest Service in the Intermountain Region and later the Northern Region. I was also on the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee and chaired that committee for a couple of years. Our success on the IGBC wouldn’t have been possible without strong support from the GYCC.

As a result, we’ve seen grizzly go through a remarkable recovery in the GYA. By working together across the landscape, we’ve made some real progress. We’ve met all our recovery goals since 1998, and the grizzly population in the GYA has tripled over the last 30 years or so. We’ve been so successful that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is nearing a delisting proposal. The Forest Service is in the process of amending forest plans to incorporate the conservation strategy.

Four Threats

Strong federal partnerships like this set an example for the nation. We need partnerships like this now more than ever, because we face some very serious threats on the nation’s forests and grasslands. At the Forest Service, we’ve been focusing on four threats in particular:

  • One threat comes from fire and fuels. The 1988 Yellowstone Fires signaled a period of growing fire seasons and increasing fire danger nationwide, particularly in the WUI. Our goal is to restore the dynamic ecological processes that our forested landscapes evolved with, including disturbances such as fire. But the issue is very complex. Restoring fire to the landscape might not always work where there’s a threat to the WUI or other things to consider, so we need sound mitigation strategies that address the social and ecological complexities of the situation.
  • A second threat comes from invasive species. Following the Yellowstone Fires, there was a huge threat from invasive weeds, and we formed interagency teams to deal with it. These teams were a model for the Cooperative Weed Management Areas that then spread across the country. Our strategy now is to take a collaborative all-taxa approach to prevention, response, control, and restoration.
  • Another enormous threat comes from loss of open space. I spent most of my career in the Northern Rockies and the Intermountain Region, and I’ve seen a lot of changes in and around the GYA. Rural areas are disappearing and the WUI is growing, and not just here. Nationwide, we lose more than 4,000 acres of working farms, ranches, and forests to development every day. We have got to find collaborative ways of stopping the loss.
  • A fourth threat comes from unmanaged outdoor recreation. Recreation has become by far the biggest use of national forest land and the biggest economic contributor. That’s especially true here in the GYA, and as the WUI expands, recreational use will only grow. We have got to get to a point where visitors get the high-quality experiences they want without compromising the health of the land or the ability of future visitors to get those same high-quality experiences. That goes especially for the use of off-highway vehicles, both in this region and nationwide.  

I believe these are the greatest threats facing the nation’s forests and grasslands—fire and fuels, invasive species, loss of open space, and unmanaged outdoor recreation. Yet our national focus is on other issues—like whether too much timber is coming off national forest land or whether we’re building too many roads. My biggest fear is that these other, lesser issues are absorbing all our energy while more important things are falling by the way. I think we need to change the national dialogue to focus on the things that really count the most. 

The GYCC is helping us do that by setting a national example of partnership to address the most serious threats. For example, for more than a decade now a central coordinating principle for the GYCC has been to maintain functional ecosystems, partly by focusing on the ecological processes needed by fire-dependent species … like aspen and whitebark pine … partly by controlling invasive weeds … partly by other means. This is where our focus should be, and I commend the GYCC for leading the way. 

Future Challenges

So these are the four main threats we’re dealing with—fire and fuels, invasive species, loss of open space, and unmanaged outdoor recreation. But there are other, longer term challenges, as well, and in the next few minutes, I’d like to outline some of them:

  • Dealing with a growing population. By the turn of the next century, we are projected to have more than half a billion Americans. Think about what that means for our water resources alone. Think about the additional pressures that will put on the GYA as people move into the WUI around here and as they demand more opportunities for outdoor recreation.
  • Expressing the changing face of America. Most of our population increase over the next century will come from immigration. That means Americans are going to get even more urban and ethnically diverse. Conservation belongs to all of our citizens, yet the face of conservation has traditionally been rural and white. We need to broaden the circle of conservation. We need to give Americans from every background more opportunities to participate in conservation.
  • Restoring the health of our watersheds, along with our deteriorating infrastructure. The Forest Service has a huge backlog of watershed restoration projects, including here in the GYA. We’ve got thousands of deteriorating culverts to replace. We’ve got roads to restore, abandoned mines to reclaim, vegetation to treat, and all kinds of deferred maintenance and ecological restoration to catch up on.
  • Supporting our land ethic with a sound, well-focused 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 as a nation must also demonstrate a sound consumption ethic.
  • Understanding and coping with long-term and large-scale climate changes. Climate change at various scales is undeniable. For example, we’re in a much drier period in parts of the West than we were 30 years ago. This has huge social, economic, and ecological implications, including here in the GYA.

New Collaborative Models

Taken together with the Four Threats, these challenges are on a scale seldom seen in the last hundred years. And if there’s one thing we’ve learned over the last few decades, it’s that our way of dealing with challenges 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 20 years from now, whatever those issues might be. 

At the beginning of this year, the Forest Service held a Centennial Congress to celebrate our past and to look to the future. We invited partners and collaborators from all over the country to help us address the challenges to conservation in the century ahead. I was interested in hearing not only what folks thought the major challenges were, but also how they thought we ought to address them. How we approach each other is key. Do folks from outside federal agencies like the Forest Service come to us and want 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 and the need for more 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 convener 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. 

I believe that our role as federal land stewards 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. The best way we can care for the land and serve people today is to build more capacity for community-based stewardship. 

In all of this, science will have a strong role to play, as the agenda for this conference clearly shows. Community-based stewardship … social values … outdoor recreation … fire and fuels … invasive species … watershed restoration … a lot of the challenges I just mentioned have been or will be specifically addressed at this conference. We welcome that; I believe that our land management and our science are at their best when we share ideas and experiences, tackle issues jointly, and come up with the solutions that work best all across the landscape. 

Spirit of Conservation

In closing, this being the centennial year of the Forest Service, I want to invoke the spirit of conservation from a century ago. A century ago, President Theodore Roosevelt and other conservationists warned against wasting timber, wildlife, and other natural resources. They warned of the need to conserve America’s spectacular wild landscapes. 

At the time, there was a widespread sense that America’s resources were limitless, so why worry about conservation? There’s a similar prideful sense today that our technological capacity is limitless, so why worry about conservation? If we run out of a resource, we can always find a substitute. 

Unfortunately, that’s not necessarily so. Just like a century ago, I think we need to guard against complacency—against the blithe assumption that our natural resources will be there forever, no matter how much we waste, neglect, and abuse them. Taken together, the threats and the challenges we face today are as great as any we’ve ever seen. But we can’t address them by acting alone; we need to work together across the landscape. 

For 40 years, the Greater Yellowstone Coordinating Committee has led the way. The GYCC embodies the collaborative spirit that I think is at the heart of conservation: of suspending distrust … of finding common ground … and of acting together to achieve a common purpose. Strong federal partnerships like this set an example for the nation. They bring out the best in all of us. I am proud of our history of working together here in the GYA in the spirit of conservation, and I look forward to the next 40 years of collaboration.

US Forest Service
Last modified March 29, 2013

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