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Ski Areas: Key Forest Service Partners
Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth
National Convention, National Ski Area Association
Marco Island, FL— May 23, 2006

It’s a pleasure to be here. I’ve been in the Forest Service for 40 years now, and I’ve met many times before with folks from ski areas. But this is the first time in Florida.

Over the years, I’ve dealt with ski area issues as a forest supervisor … as a regional forester … and as Chief, and I’ve always found ski area folks to be great partners for the Forest Service. In fact, I did a fair amount of skiing myself when I was forest supervisor on the Wasatch-Cache National Forest in Utah. I was fortunate enough to live only 20 minutes from Alta and Snowbird. It probably wasn’t too pretty seeing me ski, but I did make it down the slope. I’ve always enjoyed skiing, and I had the pleasure of watching the downhill at the Winter Olympics in 2002.

So it’s a special pleasure to appear before you as Chief at your national convention. It’s high time—I think I’m the first Chief to do so in quite awhile. And Florida will do in a pinch.

I want to start by giving you a broad idea of our approach to national forest management and how it’s changed over the years. I think it’s important for you to understand where we’re coming from … the broader issues we’re addressing today. Then I’ll turn to what we might do to work together better to meet the needs of the people that you and we serve together at ski areas.

A New Era of Restoration and Recreation
One of the benefits of serving for so long in an organization is that you gain historical perspective. When I first started with the Forest Service back in the 1960s, we were in a whole different era. The most important thing in national forest management back then was timber—getting out the cut.

Of course, we were doing other things, too. Ski areas were starting to take off; the ski industry was coming of age, thanks to the baby boomers. Under the Multiple Use–Sustained Yield Act of 1960, our mission was—and still is—to deliver multiple uses and values to the American people, including wood, water, wildlife, recreation, and livestock forage.

But our main focus at the time was timber, and there were good reasons for that. There were national wood shortages in the postwar period. From the 1950s into the 1980s, every Congress and Administration asked us to help make up that shortfall.

Today, we’re in a whole new era. Of course, we still deliver timber from national forest land, both to provide jobs and to meet the needs of the American people for wood. But our primary focus has changed. Our main focus at the Forest Service today is on ecological restoration and outdoor recreation. What we leave on the land is more important than what we take away.

Let me say a few words about restoration before turning to recreation and skiing. I think you’ll see that there’s a connection.

Restoration Challenges
Our obligation as an agency is to maintain and restore healthy, resilient ecosystems that can deliver a full range of goods, values, and services from the nation’s forests and grasslands. Many of our nation’s lands are healthy, but many are not. There are four main threats:

  • First, fire and fuels. Many American landscapes are adapted to wildland fire, yet that connection has been disrupted. As a result, fire seasons have been worsening: Since 2002, five states have had their biggest fires in modern history. These fires are devastating to communities and ecosystems alike. Our focus is on restoring fire-adapted ecosystems in partnership with local communities, and we’ve made great strides. Since 2001, the Forest Service has treated more than 13 million acres under restoration projects of all kinds. That’s an area about the size of Vermont and New Hampshire combined.
  • Another major threat comes from invasive species. Nationwide, invasive species have contributed to the decline of 49 percent of our imperiled species, according to one study. That makes invasives one of the greatest threats to biodiversity there is. Our focus is on restoring native ecosystems in partnership with states and communities. We have so far controlled the threat from pests such as the Asian long-horned beetle, and we’ve slowed the spread of weeds such as cheatgrass and knapweed.
  • A third major threat is loss of open space. Every day, our nation loses more than 4,000 acres of working farms and ranches to development, and forests are also being fragmented and lost. By 2050, we could see a net forest loss the size of Maine. Our focus is on working with the states and other partners to help landowners keep their lands open and well-managed through various kinds of financial and technical assistance. The Forest Service and USDA now protect more than 3.8 million acres of private land nationwide. That’s an area larger than Connecticut. Of course, on top of that, we also protect 193 million acres of national forest land—an area almost twice the size of California.
  • The fourth threat has to do with unmanaged outdoor recreation, particularly the unmanaged use of off-highway vehicles. In 2004, there were more than 14,000 miles of user-created trails on national forest land alone. That’s a lot of damage, and it costs a lot to repair. We’re implementing a national rule to better manage OHV use. Our focus is on working with partners and the general public to designate a system of roads, trails, and areas for motorized use. This will give us a chance to repair the past damage—and to avoid future damage.

So we’re working with partners to address the Four Threats. But there are some additional longer-term challenges we face:

  • One challenge is climate change. Ski areas have a huge stake in this issue for obvious reasons, and I commend you for the leadership you’ve shown in energy consumption. The Forest Service is starting to look at things we can do, too, to reduce our environmental footprint as an organization. The world’s biggest carbon sinks are oceans and forests. The Forest Service can’t do much about oceans, but we can do something about the capacity of forests to take up and store more carbon. That’s something we’re going to be looking at more closely in the years ahead.
  • Another challenge is to better connect to urban populations. The overwhelming majority of Americans—about 80 percent—now live in metropolitan areas, and a growing proportion of our citizens belong to ethnic minorities. 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.

Recreation Challenge: Making Memories
How do we do that? One way is through outdoor recreation. About two-thirds of national forest visitors to developed sites come from metropolitan areas. We have an opportunity to reach these folks with conservation messages. But only 7 percent of our visitors come from ethnic minorities. We’ve got to do better, maybe by offering more programs for urban youth to get out into the woods.

Whatever we do, we’ve got to make sure that our visitors get what they come for. In my view, what brings people out into the woods and makes them want to come back are the memories. Most people will always remember catching their first fish or seeing their first bear. They’ll always remember particular ski trips and ski slopes. People come for memories like these.

Our job, as I see it, is to make sure that people take home the memories they come for. That includes furnishing the services they need—the roads, the slopes, the facilities, and everything else. It also includes furnishing reasonable access to all kinds of opportunities for outdoor adventure, and that includes newer sports popular with younger generations. It could include using the infrastructure of ski areas to help meet recreational demand year-round.

But above all, it means protecting the air and water, the habitat for wildlife, the splendid scenery, and the naturalness of the landscape. When people get what they come for … when they take home good memories … part of what they remember are the outdoor settings, including the naturalness of the ski areas on national forest land. They will cherish those settings and want to protect them. On some level, they will come to support conservation.

So, as I see it, our restoration job … our conservation job … is directly connected to our job of delivering opportunities for outdoor recreation. They are two sides of the same coin.

Recreation Growth
The Forest Service has always known that, going back to President Theodore Roosevelt, who spent weeks at a time in the woods. Roosevelt appointed his friend Gifford Pinchot, another great outdoorsman, as the first Forest Service Chief. Pinchot emphasized outdoor recreation in his early book on the uses of the national forests. Early Forest Service employees like Aldo Leopold and Arthur Carhart strongly promoted recreation. In the 1920s, thanks to their efforts, the Forest Service set aside the first areas for wilderness and outdoor recreation.

But recreation really took off after World War II, partly because all the forest roads we were building for timber extraction gave people more access to the national forests. Since 1945, we estimate that the number of national forest visits has grown by a factor of 15 to 20. In 2004, we had more than 245 million site visits, plus an additional 174 million driveby visits just for the scenery.

About 19 percent of our site visitation in 2004 was related to skiing or ski areas. In fact, the National Forest System gets about 30 million of the roughly 56 million skier visits each year in the United States. That means we’re supporting about 60 percent of the demand for skiing, snowboarding, and other kinds of “downhill sliding” in this country. So let’s be clear about the obvious: The ski industry is a big part of what the Forest Service does, and the Forest Service is important to the ski industry.

We expect recreational activities on national forest land to continue to grow, if only because our population is growing. By one estimate, there will be 571 million Americans in a hundred years. If you do the math, that has phenomenal implications for the future of outdoor recreation.

If we’re getting 245 million site visits from a population of 300 million, will we be getting 466 million site visits from a population of 571 million? How sustainable is that? And what does it mean for ski areas—will we also be getting 80 percent more skiers and snowboarders than today? These are questions we need to start thinking about.

Recreation Diversification
Another question has to do with the kinds of recreation we’ll be seeing in the future. For an old fogey like me, when I think of outdoor recreation, I think mainly of hunting, fishing, camping, hiking, skiing, and maybe horseback riding. And it used to be—back in the Stone Age—that was ninety to a hundred percent of what we got on national forest land.

But not anymore. Now we get all kinds of recreation, ranging from fairly light activities like birdwatching to strenuous sports like mountain biking. A lot of it involves motors, like OHVs or snowmobiles … or gadgets, like global positioning systems or all the paraphernalia you need for caving, kayaking, hang-gliding, or rock climbing.

But you know that better than me. The ski industry has been on the forefront of tracking what our visitors want … and how their preferences are changing. You know how the boomers brought skiing to a peak and then slowly dropped off as they aged. And you also know how snowboarding brought in by Gen Xers saved business from falling off—and even brought it to new peaks.

The lesson is clear: We have to be ready to respond to what our visitors want. We have to be ready to give them opportunities for new forms of outdoor recreation. But it’s also clear that we have to do so within the limits of the land. We don’t want to deliver a Six Flags kind of experience. Those natural settings I talked about … the naturalness of our ski areas … that’s the key to making the kinds of memories we want our visitors to take away. That’s ultimately what will bring them back.

Another lesson from all this is that the Forest Service can’t do it alone. Of course, we’ve known that for a long, long time. We’ve always depended on partnerships, going back to Gifford Pinchot, the first Forest Service Chief, who made it very clear to his employees that he expected them to work closely with local communities to help them meet their needs.

That’s particularly true today. Today, we live in a network-centered world where no one has a corner on information, knowledge, or talent. We have to recognize that in the way we work—in the way we deliver values and fulfill our mission. In business as well as in government and community service, the most efficient and cost-effective way to deliver values is through strategic partnerships—by sharing and leveraging resources.

In fact, we’re using partnerships to meet every one of the restoration challenges I mentioned at the beginning of my remarks. We could never do it alone; we simply don’t have the resources. That’s especially true for outdoor recreation, particularly at ski areas and other developed sites. If there’s one message I want to leave you with today, it’s this: We need you, and we know it.

I want our folks in the field to know that we have got to be thinking long-term about this. That means improving our business relationships, our business savvy, and our ability to look at issues from a business perspective. As an organization, we’ve got to simplify our processes to make it easier for our partners to work with us. We’re committed to doing that, and I think we’ve made some progress in recent years.

Now, does that mean we will always see eye to eye? Of course not. There might be areas where we disagree. The point is, we share the same basic goals, and that gives us a strong foundation for working out our differences based on mutual trust and respect. The bottom line is this: We need to work together for the benefit of the people we serve.

With respect to resources, I’ll be straight with you: Since 9/11, our national priorities have shifted. We don’t foresee significant increases in our budgets for years to come, and we didn’t get any for fiscal year 2007. Overall, the President’s budget for the Forest Service has about $182 million less in funding than the budget enacted last year. For Recreation, Heritage, and Wilderness, we expect to see about $10.5 million less in funding. That’s a relatively small decline overall—about 4 percent—but it’s still a decline.

With that said, I think there might be some good opportunities for working together to improve our service to the American people.

  • First—there’s the restoration challenge of dealing with such threats as fire and fuels or invasive species. I want to commend the ski industry for taking the lead in this regard. Ski areas have been great about partnering with us to restore ecosystems … to rehabilitate old ski slopes … to protect wildlife habitat and waterways … to apply best management practices to the land. I want you to know how much we value that.
  • Second—as we begin to think through what we can do on the nation’s forest land to increase carbon storage capacity, there might be opportunities to work together on and around ski areas. As I mentioned, the ski industry has been a leader in addressing problems related to climate change … in reducing energy consumption … in recycling products and utilizing renewable energy sources. I commend you for your vision and insight on this issue, and I know we’re interested in any ideas you might have.
  • Third—there might be opportunities to work together at ski areas to help broaden the circle of conservation. Maybe we can connect more directly with visitors, or maybe we can work together to bring people to ski areas who might not normally get out to a national forest in either winter or summer. Again, we’re interested in your ideas and observations.
  • Fourth—as I mentioned, changing demographics are bringing new demands, and some ski areas understandably want to create new facilities and offer new recreation opportunities. We need to sit down together to weigh the pros and cons on a case-by-case basis. Do we need to change? Are there opportunities to accommodate a new set of recreational users within the limits of the land? I want you to know that we are open to dialogue. How can we work together to better serve our visitors in a way that ensures your viability as a business?

Partnership Is Key
In closing, our job—as I see it—is to make sure that people take home good recreational memories from the national forests. Above all, that means protecting the air and water, the habitat for wildlife, the splendid scenery, and the naturalness of the landscape, because that’s what visitors come for.

Today, the main threats to these values come from fire and fuels, invasive species, loss of open space, and unmanaged outdoor recreation. Longer-term challenges include climate change and meeting the needs of the urban, ethnically diverse people who are the future of conservation.

I think we have worked well together in the past to meet these and other challenges, and I am confident that we will continue to do so in the future. That will help us protect the foundations of outdoor recreation for years to come.

The bottom line is this: The Forest Service is going to have to rely more on our partners. You play the most important role for the future of outdoor recreation, and we value your expertise. We know that our ski areas need to make a living from public land. We want your business to be viable, and we welcome your ideas and suggestions. For the sake of the land we care for and the people we serve, we want our partnership to stay strong.


US Forest Service
Last modified March 29, 2013

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