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Trends Affecting Forestry in the United States
Forest Service Associate Chief Sally Collins
National Association of State Foresters, Annual Meeting
Madison , WI — October 3, 2005

As always, it’s a pleasure to be here among so many friends and partners of the Forest Service. You’ve got a great agenda for your annual meeting this year, with issues like rural community viability, global markets for forest products, and markets for ecosystem services. These are some of the same issues we’ve been discussing at the Forest Service, and it shows we have a common interest in understanding the trends that affect us all as professional foresters.

Last year, Chief Bosworth had the honor of addressing your annual meeting, and he asked you to help us think through some of these trends, particularly for nonfederal forest lands. Jim Hull gave a wonderful presentation to the Forest Service’s National Leadership Team meeting in June, and I’ve been briefed on some of the ideas generated at your three regional forums. We’re committed to working with you to ensure that people understand the importance of nonfederal forest lands and the benefits of incentives that serve private forest landowners.

I believe this is vital for the future of forestry in the United States. At the Forest Service, we’ve been discussing the future in terms of global trends, and what I’d like to do today is to briefly outline some of those trends and some ideas we’re considering to address them. Way more knowledgeable speakers will be here this week to present their ideas, so my intention is to just tee up a few of these.

Hurricane Response

But first, I want to turn to something on all of our minds—the tragic events surrounding Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. We have a long tradition of coordination and cooperation in responding to fire emergencies, so we have in place the relationships and skills needed to jointly respond to a hurricane disaster. I am extremely proud of our employees—both federal and state—as we work together to help the suffering citizens of the Gulf Coast.

The Forest Service has over 4,300 people working on incident management teams, on logistics and planning teams, and in crews side by side with nearly 1,400 state and local employees. We are truly in this together … doing our best to provide the basics that we usually take for granted: food, water, emergency medical care, and a safe place to rest.

Just a few examples:

  • At Camp Beauregard in Pineville, Louisiana, one of our incident management teams has worked 24 hours a day since the end of August to process over 4,100 truckloads of relief supplies.
  • In Hammond, Louisiana, state and federal workers have provided basic supplies to over 825,000 people, especially in the hard-hit area north of Lake Pontchartrain.
  • In Gulfport, Mississippi, incident management teams are providing basic services—such as meals and showers—to over a thousand personnel from the Red Cross, the Peace Corps, Urban Search and Rescue, and the military.
  • At the Louis Armstrong Airport in New Orleans, we’ve together provided over 200,000 meals.
  • And in St. Gabriel, Louisiana, on one of the hardest assignments, an incident management team made up of federal, state, and local professionals are providing personnel from Disaster Mortuary Teams with the supplies and assistance needed to bring dignity to those who have died in this terribledisaster.

None of us take this commitment of federal and state firefighting personnel lightly. We will be working together for many more months on these events alone, and we know there are 6 more weeks of hurricanes ahead. We worry about funding and resources and being able to care for our people after they return home. But we all know that our folks are following their highest calling—protecting life and property—and they are doing it well. And proud to be doing it.

Global Markets

Now I’d like to turn to global trends. In looking at our national conservation issues in recent years, I’ve been struck by the extent to which so many of them have become global—everything from species protection of migratory birds; to invasive species management, with the never-ending introduction of exotics from ever-expanding global trade; to international ecotourism; to global markets for forest products.

In particular, the forest products industry in the United States has dramatically changed in the last 20 to 30 years. More and more, timber prices are being set globally, and it can actually be more economical for an American company to operate overseas and import the wood than it is to operate in the United States and sell on our own markets. You’ll learn some of the reasons for this later this week. But today, when our citizens buy softwood lumber, four boards in ten now come from other countries.

As a result, very few mills are left in some parts of the country. Our researchers found that from 1986 to 2003, we lost 46 percent of our milling capacity in the West, and in the Southern Rockies alone it was 60 percent. As you know, this is a very serious challenge to sustainable forest management, because without mills to process material, it’s tough to get it out of the woods—something we need to do to reduce fire hazards, provide habitat for various species, and restore fire-adapted ecosystems—ecosystems we all know are significantly “out of whack” for a variety of reasons.

The harvesting and milling operations that—so far—have survived and can compete are often small operations based in local communities or on Indian tribal lands. Many are family owned. But if global market conditions favor subsidized plantation harvesting as the cheapest way of getting wood to consumers, what will that do to community-based forestry? If small-scale operators in nonplantation—or natural—forests ultimately can’t compete—say, the tribal sawlog producer in the pine forests of Arizona or the local producer of specialty woods in the Amazon rainforest—then what will become of those natural communities—and the human communities that depend on them?

Forestry Decentralization

So global markets for forest products are affecting us in various ways. Another global trend is for centralized models of forest governance to give way to more decentralized models. I just came back from an international conference on forestry and related issues in China, where decentralization is a critical issue. The state-owned forestry enterprises in China are inefficient and losing money, and the country is trying to figure out what to do with them. Maybe more interesting is their interest in devolving ownership of forests to the local level, from the strong centralized system they currently have. Other countries are also in the process of deciding what to do with their public forest lands, including Brazil , Indonesia , and Russia . In some ways, these countries are where we were 150 years ago in the United States , trying to figure out how to set up a state and federal system of forest management.

One purpose of the China conference was to discuss some alternatives. I was invited in part to recount our own experience with forestry in the United States. I explained that most of our forests are privately owned, and that sustainable forest management in the United States depends on strong partnerships among local, tribal, federal, state, and private organizations and landowners. They want advice and are asking for ideas, and they see the states as providing a nice model for them.

This fits with the international trend to devolve more forest management responsibility to local and indigenous communities. Eighty percent of the world’s poor depend on forest resources, and more than a billion poor people live in the world’s 19 biodiversity hotspots. What we’re learning from our international partnerships—with organizations like The Nature Conservancy, World Wildlife Fund, Conservation International, Forest Trends, and others—is that if we want to protect biodiversity worldwide, then we have got to give local communities a stake in the land. More and more governments are engaging communities in managing their local forests because they see that the best caretakers are those who know and depend on the land the most. We’re seeing a global trend toward community-based forestry, with parts of Mexico being stellar examples. And we’re certainly seeing it here in the United States.

Ideas for Discussion

So these are some of the longer-term trends we’ve been considering:

  • relatively flat U.S. demand for forest products over the next 20 years;
  • U.S. forestry investors going to the southern hemisphere, particularly Latin America, New Zealand, and Australia;
  • global pricing making U.S. softwood products less competitive;
  • a market-driven global tendency toward plantation forestry, potentially undermining community-based enterprises in natural and nonindustrial forest lands;
  • a growing export market in hardwoods and opportunities for smaller niche markets for forest products and nontimber forest products;
  • a growing failure of traditional top-down forestry to deal with social, economic, and environmental issues, and a tendency to look for bottom-up community-based solutions; and
  • a tendency to restructure governance of forest management worldwide, with many eyes turned to the United States for ideas.

I believe there are a few areas where we might start looking for solutions.

First, I think that we in the forestry community need to educate ourselves on the global scale of the challenges facing us. The Forest Service has been doing that through national leadership seminars in Oaxaca, Mexico, and we’ve been pleased to host some of your members at these seminars, too. I want to thank you for participating and hope more of your members can join us in the future.

Second, I think we need to look into the possibility of developing markets to account for the value of environmental—or ecosystem—services. Most ecological values are not currently traded in the marketplace. Too often, forests are converted to development because the market ignores the value of the land for delivering water, sequestering carbon, and supporting wildlife. If we can develop markets for ecosystem services in addition to the existing markets for forest products, then the economic incentive for sustainable land management might outweigh the incentive for development. It’s already being done in a number of places around the world in a number of ways, for example through emissions trading or by paying for crop pollination or upstream watershed protection. We’re looking at how the Forest Service can support such efforts in the United States.

Third, we need to take a hard look at the incentives we offer forest landowners through our State and Private Forestry programs. With increased parcelization and a growing number of landowners, are there incentives we can offer landowners to act collectively to conserve forests across ownerships? Can we help them sell ecosystem services such as watershed protection or amenities such as outdoor recreation? Where appropriate, are there ways we can encourage participation in certification schemes? There might be examples from around the world that can inform these discussions. Worldwide, about $2 billion per year are spent in public subsidies for plantation forestry. Could some small percentage go to ecosystem services and restoration?

Fourth, we need to build on the success of the White House Conference on Cooperative Conservation in August. Secretary Johanns made some encouraging remarks at the conference, especially his announcement of the USDA’s Market-Based Environmental Stewardship Coordination Council. The Council will implement a new USDA policy to broaden the use of markets for ecosystem services through voluntary mechanisms. And we need to look at the upcoming action on the next Farm Bill to see what can be improved and consider together opportunities for tailoring the Farm Bill to help keep working forests in operation and to promote sustainable forestry on private forestland.

Finally, we need to continue the great work you’ve started on the Chief’s Challenge—from communication efforts on the value of private forests, to conservation education, to new markets and tax incentives, to activating new and existing networks to gain momentum and support. This has been a year of great ideas and great work on your part, and we need to continue this.

Budget Discussion

In the spirit of keeping our focus on the future, I want to briefly share some budget and organizational changes. We continue to work to align our skills and organize to meet the new challenges facing us.

First, the budget. As you know, the President signed the Interior and related agencies appropriations bill on August 2. We expect to issue program direction for fiscal 2006 to the field very early in the fiscal year. The field can therefore begin negotiating our assistance to states much earlier than in recent years.

In a nutshell, our State and Private Forestry program is down about $10, from $292 million to $282 million, mostly in Economic Action Programs. Given our overall budget, the war effort, and new hurricane relief spending, we have to feel pretty good that it was not more severe.

The Administration is working on a supplemental bill for areas affected by the hurricanes, and it will probably include assistance through State and Private Forestry programs. I’m sure Mark will have an update on this.

Organizational Changes

We had some transitions this year. Joel moved to the National Forest System Deputy Chief job, and we’ve had two acting Deputy Chiefs, Pete Roussopoulos and Jack Troyer. I want to publicly thank them both. Also, we have added a second associate deputy chief, Kent Connaughton, and we’re pleased to have Kent in the Washington Office. Many of you probably know him from his role in California—but if not, he’s here and looking forward to meeting you.

I want to take this opportunity to publicly acknowledge our senior associate deputy chief, Robin Thompson, for her six or more years of leadership and service. Robin has been the glue holding the Washington Office organization together through four deputy chiefs, and I just want her to know how much the Chief and I respect her work and her leadership. Thanks, Robin.

I know you all are anxious to know who the next Deputy Chief will be. We are working on it, and we hope to have an announcement before Jack Troyer leaves at the end of October. A number of you have helped provide advice and support—recruitment even—and we appreciate that.


In fact, some other thanks are in order, as well. I want to thank the State Foresters and the NASF committees for working with us in revising performance measures. We have been working together to get this review done in time for the fiscal 2007 budget development process. Thanks to your help, we are on target. We plan to discuss the revised measures with OMB soon, and we’ll keep you informed and involved. Performance measures are critical to a broad understanding of the great work going on our there.

I also want to thank all of the State Foresters for helping us through the ordeal of withdrawing $18 million from our field units and your state organizations to balance our books. The need for this came as a surprise to all of us, and we appreciate your understanding—we continue to improve our financial processes so this won’t be happening in the future.

Finally, I want to thank Pat McElroy for his participation with our leadership team this year. His ideas, as always, have enriched our discussions and kept our perspective on all lands, regardless of ownership. Thanks to all of you State Foresters who participated with us in the Chief’s Reviews this past year—again, you continue to offer us a grounding in the broader issues, and we appreciate this.

Thanks to many of you who participated in our centennial events—and thanks to all who have taken a week of your time to join us in Oaxaca, Mexico, to look at these trends you’ll talk about this week. It was in the back of a van in Mexico 2 years ago when Jim Hull said he wanted the 2005 NASF meeting, the one he was hosting in Madison, to be focused on these global trends. And here we are. Thanks, Jim, for your leadership. That’s what it takes to respond assertively to the changing environment we’re in.

Opportunities Ahead

I’ve found that considering these global trends and the challenges imposed or presented by them has made some people pretty uncomfortable—to the point, last week in China, where one American university forestry professor said to me, “I’m not even sure what the forestry profession is anymore or what to advise young people entering the profession.”

As I said there, I think we’ve learned one important lesson in our hundred-year history at the Forest Service: Forestry, like a forest, is always in transition. And sharp transitions can bring innovation and creativity. I’m convinced that we’ll take this opportunity and together reshape the management of forested landscapes in our country.

US Forest Service
Last modified March 29, 2013

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