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SPEECH
USDA Forest Service
Washington, D.C.

Protecting Forests for a Healthy Planet
Forest Service Associate Chief Sally Collins
EarthVision Summit: Actions for a Healthy Planet
Washington, DC—April 25, 2008

It’s great to be here, and I would like to thank SCA for inviting me. SCA is one of our longest and strongest partners at the Forest Service, going back forty years. I’d like to thank them for hosting this event. EarthVision is a wonderful opportunity for people to come together and share their energy and ideas on conservation. In a very real sense, the future of conservation belongs to you, and it is an honor for me to be here.

I really like the theme of this conference, “EarthVision—Actions for a Healthy Planet,” because it so directly implies keeping a global perspective as we strive to act responsibly at home. To me, that means a number of things:

  1. It means being aware of the impact of our nation’s actions on other countries, whether it be in the amount of pollutants we emit, energy we consume, or products we buy.
  2. It’s about reminding ourselves that so many environmental issues are global in scope, from migratory birds that range from Alaska to South America, to the atmosphere or oceans we collectively share with the entire planet.
  3. It’s about understanding that natural resources are distributed unevenly around the world, contributing to different social and government structures, unique cultural traditions and arts, and, unfortunately for so many people, poverty, lack of clean water, and disease.
  4. And it is about continually reminding us that one of the root causes of war and conflict has been natural resources.

Maybe this is on my mind more profoundly today because, just last night, I returned from a trip to Vietnam, where I thought hard about all of these ideas. Thirty-two years ago, the Vietnam War ended, and we pulled out our troops. Thirteen years ago, the United States normalized relations with Vietnam. This week, I signed an agreement with the Vietnamese Forest Service to collaborate with them on forest management. Together we have agreed to work on climate change, as well as forest restoration, and community forest enterprises that will address rural poverty in the Central Highlands and the Mekong Delta. This is immensely important work that they are doing to anticipate the potential horrific effects of climate change. Vietnam is, according to a recent UN report, going to be one of the most affected countries in the world. Roughly 20 percent of their land could be underwater in the next century.

So hang on for a minute to this global perspective and let me speak to another issue facing the planet: clean water. According to the UN, polluted water kills 6,000 people a day, mostly children under 5. In fact, waterborne disease is the number one killer of children in the world today. It is a rare country outside the United States where you can safely drink water out of a faucet in any home or public place.

And this is where the Forest Service comes in. We are about trees, and trees are about water. Most of the drinking water in the United States comes from forested lands, where forests soak up rain like sponges, naturally filter and scrub the water clean, and slowly release that water into lakes and streams, where communities pipe your water to your homes. And in the United States, water coming from forested lands needs very little, if any, additional water treatment.

That only works if forested lands are healthy, which is the lion’s share of our work in the Forest Service—to provide for healthy forests that can sustain all of the ecosystem services that people need and depend on—services like sequestering carbon, providing wildlife and fish, and regulating floods. If you lose ecologically functioning forests, you lose one of the major life support systems on Earth.

Working in conservation is the highest calling I can imagine. Each one of us really can make a difference, whether you reach to far lands across the oceans or right here at home. And you are with us at the conference because you feel this way, too. I am very proud of the work we do in the Forest Service, and as proud to be here with you today. That’s because we are counting on you to be the conservation leaders and professionals of the future, leaders who will sustain our forests, protect our parks, and promote a land ethic for your children.

Thanks, and have a great weekend!

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US Forest Service
Last modified March 29, 2013
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