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Future Challenges and Partnerships
Forest Service Associate Chief Sally Collins
Forest Service Annual Partnership Coordinators’ Meeting
South Lake Tahoe , CA— June 6, 2006

It is a pleasure to be here tonight … to catch up with so many old friends … to see so many of our partners. I would like to start by thanking the National Forest Foundation and the Student Conservation Association for sponsoring this event. I would also like to thank the Partnership Network and all the partners who are attending this meeting.

This is an opportunity to strengthen and expand our partnership network and to build the collaborative skills we will need to meet the challenges of the 21 st century. It is an opportunity to share information about what we are doing … to share thoughts about trends and strategies for partnership and collaboration. Maybe best of all, it is an opportunity for networking and building relationships. Lake Tahoe is a wonderful setting for all this, and I hope you will all take advantage of your surroundings and have fun.

Tonight, I would like to share a few thoughts about where we find ourselves in the conservation community at this moment in history. Where are we headed in the 21 st century, and what role will partnerships play?

Centennial Themes
Last year, the Forest Service celebrated its centennial. It was an occasion for reflecting on the past, present, and future, and we held a number of Centennial Forums around the country, culminating in a Centennial Congress at the beginning of last year. I am sure almost all of you participated—the National Forest Foundation played a large role in sponsorship and support.

Three general sets of themes emerged from these dialogues, and I’d like to use them as a point of departure for my remarks here tonight:

  • First, there was a lot of concern that we as a nation are losing the goods, services, and values we get from forest and grassland ecosystems because these ecosystems are too often being degraded, damaged, or destroyed.
  • Second, there was widespread concern that we are not doing enough to engage the general public in addressing these problems. After all, these are public problems demanding public solutions; there is only so far that natural resource professionals can go in addressing them.
  • Finally, there was the widespread realization that we will need strong partnerships to meet the challenges ahead, and there was some concern that we are not doing enough to facilitate partnerships and collaboration.

Future Challenges
First, what are the major challenges we face—and what are we doing about them?

I spent a lot of time over the last two years talking about the four threats facing our nation’s forests and grasslands: fire and fuels, invasive species, loss of open space, and unmanaged recreation.

Today, we are talking about another threat—climate change—which might even dwarf these other concerns in the long term. Let me take a minute here to describe it.

Forest Service researchers have been studying this question since the late 1980s. If carbon dioxide in the atmosphere doubles over the next century, then we are likely to see some very substantial changes. In California, temperatures could rise by as much as 9 degrees on average, bringing major changes in ecological communities. Grasses would move into desert areas. Some forests would likely become denser, while others could disappear. Snowpacks would melt sooner, and alpine and subalpine communities would all but disappear as lower elevation forest types move upslope. All in all, severe social, economic, and ecological disruptions could lie ahead.

You’ve seen the Time magazine cover with polar bears floating on an iceberg … or this month’s Vanity Fair, showing Washington, DC, and New York City under water … the problem is there. We are going to have to confront it.

That brings me to the last two themes of the Centennial Congress and our centennial year—and the primary focus of our meeting here this week.

We need to engage people in addressing the conservation challenges of this century and building as well as support the needed partnerships. We have been talking about collaboration and partnerships for more than a decade, and all of us together have made some amazing progress. We have a different kind of leader on the ground in the Forest Service today than we did just 15 years ago—with much stronger values and skills around collaboration. Collectively, we have mobilized millions of people and lots of funding through creative new partnerships. More than $1 billion in funding and volunteer time has come to the Forest Service every year for the past several years—and, with that, tremendous advances in conservation.

However, like the changing challenges in the natural resources world, changes in our public complexion and values mean continually shifting our approach in collaboration and partnership building.

As a nation, we are becoming more urban, more ethnically and culturally diverse, more disparate in our wealth, and less connected to our natural world. We are aging and shifting some huge burdens—mostly financial—to our younger generations. More and more conservation challenges are global in nature. How can a strong conservation agenda advance in this world?

Clearly, we need to widen the circle of conservation to include the ever-growing urban minority communities. The Forest Service has rural and decentralized roots, but that is not where the population is moving. Community forestry means something different now than it used to.

We will need to better understand what can motivate people to participate in conservation and intervene in ways that work, keeping in mind that people are physically farther away from the resources we need to conserve. These resources are not in their line of sight, nor does their everyday livelihood depend on them in an immediate sense.

Not for a minute can we rest on our laurels. We have had some amazing successes in partnership building—examples include the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Wild Turkey Federation, Ducks Unlimited, Student Conservation Association, National Forest Foundation, and others in the conservation community. Everyone is working hard to reach the populations of the future—and all are finding it challenging. I think this is one area where we can learn together and accomplish great things by building alliances with the education, public health, and even public justice systems across the country. We can also build coalitions with corporate America, which is ever more conscious of “going green” and the need for cultural diversity. In our most recent strategic plan revision, we have placed connecting with urban populations as a new goal—only on of six at the national level. That is how focused we are going to have to be.

Conservation Working for People
One of the joys of my job is the perspective I gain from global travel—and since most global conservation challenges are in Third World countries, I have come to appreciate the country we live in, in ways I had not thought of before. We are truly blessed with a strong national framework for conservation, with robust laws protecting our natural resources and financial commitments for doing so that much of the rest of the world cannot even begin to dream of.

As we all know, the greatest cause of deforestation worldwide and the attending loss of biodiversity is agriculture and fuelwood, much of it just to sustain life in areas of great poverty. What I have taken from those experiences is an understanding that for people to work for and support conservation, conservation has to work for and support people, sometimes at a very basic level.

Our challenge is to understand how conservation can work for and support people and build incentives to promote that. Our partnerships, our community collaborations, can be the vehicle for these incentives—everything from working with minority farmers; to converting marginal croplands to forests in the Mississippi Delta; to collaborating with the Urban League to expand green infrastructure in our cities; to putting at-risk youth to work in our parks and forests restoring ecosystems.

Some of it is just doing more of what we are already doing—some is inventing something completely new—all with the goal of expanding support for conservation in the next hundred years. Really, for me, that is about instilling future generations with a love of and appreciation for the natural world.

Let me end by saying thanks to each of you—because I know you are here for precisely that reason and have dedicated so much of your personal and professional lives to this cause. I really believe that it is people like us who care a lot, and who engage others to equally care, that will make this possible.

Thanks for being here tonight.


US Forest Service
Last modified March 29, 2013

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