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USDA Forest Service
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Partnerships for Ecosystem Services
Forest Service Associate Chief Sally Collins
International Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies
Washington , DC — February 21, 2006

It’s a pleasure to be here today. Partnerships have always been central to our stewardship obligations at the Forest Service, so it’s very important that we have meetings like this to strengthen our relationships and discuss our mutual opportunities for working together. I’d like to give a brief overview of our situation at the Forest Service, then turn it over to Joel, Jim, and Ann to discuss some specifics. At the end, we’ll have some time for Q&A.

Furnishing Ecosystem Services
Our mission at the Forest Service is to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of people, both now and in the future. People depend on forests and grasslands in myriad ways—maybe more than many of us realize. People get all kinds of ecosystem services from forests and grasslands:

  • "supporting services" such as soil formation and nutrient cycling;
  • "provisioning services" such as food and fiber, including game and fisheries;
  • "regulating services" such as water purification or flood control; and
  • "cultural services" such as aesthetics and outdoor recreation.

Many of these services directly or indirectly affect our ability to provide habitat for fish and wildlife and to serve people in activities such as hunting, fishing, and wildlife viewing. The complexities involved and the scale of the interdependencies and challenges involved are tremendous—almost mind-boggling.

For example, when you think of the global implications of invasive species or of climate change and the potential impacts on the fish and wildlife in our own backyards, you begin to realize how hopeless it is for any of us to think we can do it alone. We have got to work together all across the landscape and, indeed, all around the world.

Partnerships for Ecological Restoration
Partnerships are key. Fortunately, the Forest Service has long partnership traditions of working with you—with the states, with NGOs and other private organizations, and with international organizations—to maintain and restore habitat for fish and wildlife. In fact, a major focus for our agency today is ecological restoration—restoring the ability of forests and grasslands to provide all the ecosystem services that people need, including habitat for fish and wildlife.

We don’t view the appropriations we get as money to be spent on this or that project. Instead, we see them as long-term investments in partnerships to restore our natural capital—to restore the forests and grasslands that furnish the ecosystem services that are the cornerstone of life.

We are finding that restoration work has enormous collaborative appeal. A restoration opportunity can bring community stakeholders together to find common values and agree on the actions needed to reach shared goals. Often, the work can be done through partnerships or community-based stewardship contracts. Because our work increasingly depends on such partnerships and community relations, restoration holds great promise for the future.

Partnership Issues
With that said, I know it’s not always the easiest thing in the world to partner with the Forest Service.

  • For one thing, budgets are tight right now. You all know the reasons why. For the foreseeable future, we’re going to have to make some tough choices. Not all programs are going to be funded to their maximum capacity level.
  • For another thing, we are going through some organizational growing pains right now. Our business processes have been inefficient and out of date, and we are finally bringing them into the 21 st century. Ultimately, this will save resources while improving service. But most large-scale organizational changes involve glitches at first that need to be ironed out, and many of our partners are seeing those glitches right now. Obviously, none of us want that, and we are working hard to get our processes up to speed. I am confident that the problems will soon be solved.

Farm Bill and Ecosystem Services
You might be wondering about changes to the Farm Bill due to be reauthorized next year. Fifty-seven percent of the forest land in the United States is in private ownership, which means that private landowners furnish most of the environmental benefits we get from forests. If all the services we get from ecosystems had a fair market value, it might be substantial, but most of them don’t have any market value at all. The consequence of not fairly valuing forest benefits from private lands often means losing those benefits when a landowner sells to a developer.

The 2007 Farm Bill offers an opportunity to address the problem. Last summer in St. Louis, at the White House conference on cooperative conservation, the Secretary of Agriculture spoke of a future where credits for clean water, carbon sequestration, or wetlands can be traded as easily as corn or soybeans. We share that vision—a vision of viable markets where ecosystem services are as tradable as traditional commercial products from forests and rangelands. In the months ahead, we will be working with our partners to determine how this vision fits into the new Farm Bill. Our challenge is to find new ways of rewarding private landowners for improving the natural capital that delivers ecosystem services for us all.

With that, I’ll turn it over to Joel …


US Forest Service
Last modified March 29, 2013

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