1998 Report of the Forest Service
Performance Highlights of the Natural Resource Agenda
Background and Introduction
FY 1998 found the Forest Service at a pivotal point. The first Strategic Plan required by the Results Act had just been submitted to Congress at the close of FY 1997. The agency's 4-year experiment as a pilot in the reinvention effort was drawing to a close, with the first required performance plan not due until FY 1999.
Chief Dombeck celebrated his first year in office in 1998 by announcing what would become known as the agency's Natural Resource Agenda. While funding levels and program mixes had already been established for the fiscal year, line officers, program managers, and employees throughout the Forest Service began to consider and incorporate elements of the Natural Resource Agenda wherever possible. These elements are summarized in the following sections.
Watershed Protection and Restoration
Watershed protection and restoration is vital to ecosystem health. Watersheds absorb rain and recharge underground aquifers. They serve as habitat for thousands of species of fish, wildlife, and rare plants. Properly functioning watersheds can minimize damage to lives, property, and streams from severe storms by absorbing runoff. Downstream communities depend on the clean water that flows from healthy watersheds for domestic use, food production, employment, power generation, and recreation.
Most national forest and grassland watersheds are functioning properly, supporting a variety of thriving ecosystems. In some areas, however, watersheds are deteriorating at alarming rates. Symptoms of poor health include declining water quality, alternating periods of flooding and drought, forests increasingly susceptible to insect and disease outbreaks, and decreasing populations of native fish and wildlife species.
Prior to 1897, 40 million acres of national forest were established primarily for watershed protection. In the Organic Administration Act of 1897, Congress directed that:
"No national forest shall be established, except to improve and protect the forest within the boundaries, or for the purpose of securing favorable conditions of water flows, and to furnish a continuous supply of timber for the use and necessities of citizens of the United States."
Over the years (primarily 1948-95) the focus on the Organic Act's provision for timber production has been clear. Less well understood by the public has been the agency's focus on watershed protection. The emphasis on watershed protection was both prophetic and well deserved. Today, the national forests contain over 1,000 municipal watersheds, and about 20 percent of the Nation's freshwater sources originate on national forest land.
The Natural Resource Agenda builds on this historical and legal foundation by making the maintenance and restoration of healthy ecosystems and watersheds a top priority. Based on sound science, the Forest Service will implement policies and strategies for restoring, protecting, and maintaining healthy ecosystems at the watershed level.
The critical issues now facing the Nation's watersheds include: invasion of exotic species, risk of severe and extensive wildfire, undesirable changes in vegetation, loss of species viability, degradation of aquatic ecosystems, excessive roading and poor road maintenance, air pollution, development on private land, and abandoned mines.
Under the premise that society's commodity needs cannot be met without securing the health of land and water resources, current and future generations depend on agency policies that address these issues. Watershed protection and ecological restoration will receive high priority in all decisionmaking processes, including budget and program planning, land management planning, project implementation, and watershed assessments for forest and interagency plans. Forest Service policy goals are to:
· Understand the relationship between land and water uses, watersheds, and ecosystem health within the context and limitations of applicable laws and existing treaties.
· Complete ecosystem analyses of NFS lands at the watershed level to determine existing conditions and potential landscape capability.
· Make land use allocations and project-level decisions based on sound scientific analyses and priorities for watershed restoration.
· Collaborate with all relevant parties and stakeholders to achieve healthy watersheds and ecosystems for current and future generations.
To realize this vision for healthy watersheds, the Forest Service will implement a nine-point strategy, using the best available science, in collaboration with States, local communities, other Federal agencies, and interest groups. Each point in the strategy will have quantifiable, measurable goals that will serve to focus our activities and keep the Forest Service accountable to the American people. Restoration needs assessments will determine the type, amount, location, and time of restoration work. In particular, the agency will involve local communities, generating ownership in the outcomes. The nine points include:
1) Making watershed management, including necessary watershed restoration, maintenance, and the acquisition of water rights in accordance with Federal and State laws, the highest priority in land management plan revisions.
2) Completing assessments of watershed conditions.
3) Restoring degraded ecosystems and attaining desirable vegetative conditions.
4) Working with other agencies, such as the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), to prevent exotic organisms from entering or spreading in the United States, and to control existing pests.
5) Reconstructing, relocating, and decommissioning roads to help restore degraded watersheds.
6) Restoring degraded riparian areas.
7) Fully implementing by 2003 the Forest Health Monitoring Program established by Federal and State agencies to collaboratively monitor and report on the Nation's forest health.
8) Rebuilding populations of threatened, endangered, and sensitive species and conserving or restoring their habitats.
9) Encouraging communities to restore and maintain healthy watersheds through community programs.
Results Act annual performance indicators and budget line items that most closely relate to these issues, concerns, and policy goals include:
Over time, the Forest Service's policy goals for healthy watersheds on the national forests will be attained when the short-term actions and programs described above collectively and cumulatively result in:
· Healthy, diverse, and resilient aquatic systems supporting a variety of conditions and benefits.
· Forest and grassland systems supporting all biological and physical components, functions, and interrelationships and their capability for self-renewal.
· Rangeland systems including robust riparian systems and a variety of conditions and benefits.
· Wildlife and fish populations that are abundant and thriving, rather than threatened, endangered, or sensitive.
· Watersheds providing the timing, quality, and quantity of water needed for beneficial uses and to sustain desired conditions.
· Soil that is productive enough in the long term to support healthy, diverse, and resilient terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems.
One of the primary purposes of this report is to monitor the agency's annual accomplishments in activities that lead toward these longer term outcomes. The following graph illustrates a range of possible performance levels for several key indicators. To address total resource needs in a timely fashion, the Forest Service should be operating at the upper levels shown in FY 2002. The lower line for each indicator illustrates what might be expected given recent Congressional appropriations. Future agency budget proposals will request funding that allows implementation at the higher (FY 2002) level as quickly as possible.
Sustainable Forest Management
Sustainable forest management (SFM) has been a Forest Service goal, worded in one form or another, for decades. The concern today is to be more effective in the accomplishment of that goal by building a sustainable forest management framework into all phases of the agency's business.
Both the area of forestland and total volume of forest inventories (biomass) in the United States have stabilized and rebounded from their 1920 lows. Although the Nation's forests are generally healthy and productive, there are several areas of concern:
The Natural Resource Agenda addresses the Forest Service commitment to sustainable forest management, including the specific concerns listed above. SFM refers to the management of the National Forest System and all of the Nation's forests in a way that meets the social, ecological, and cultural needs of people today without compromising the needs of people in the future.
Sustainable forest management requires the integration of environmental, social, and economic considerations in forest management. Taken as a whole, the agency's mission is designed to accomplish this. The Forest Service, however, is addressing sustainable forest management in several completely new ways. These are:
· promoting a common understanding of the 7 national-level criteria and 67 supporting indicators for sustainable forest management developed by the United States and 11 other countries, and endorsed in Santiago, Chile in 1995;
· working with partners to measure and assess trends in the social, biological, and economic condition of forests at the local, regional, and national levels, and making that information available to the public and decisionmakers;
· working in a collaborative stewardship way with other agencies (State and Federal), and nongovernmental organizations, to use resource condition trends and apply an ecosystem management philosophy.
To ensure accountability to the American people, the Forest Service will link performance by Forest Service managers to the framework of sustainable forest management. Specifically, the Forest Service will:
· Integrate SFM criteria and indicators into resource assessments, strategic plans, and associated analyses.
· Use indicators in annual performance plans that measure performance in terms of sustainable forest and rangeland ecosystems.
· Establish annual performance contracts so that top Forest Service managers are held accountable to the Chief for healthy ecosystems and link these contracts to our annual performance plans.
A majority of America's forests are privately owned (393 million acres). In addition, urban and rural communities depend on the national forests for a wide range of values and services. Both commodity and aesthetic resources are important to the quality of life in rural communities. Increased integration of economic, social, and ecological concerns is needed to enable rural communities and the Forest Service to work together on goals for sustainable development.
Results Act annual performance indicators and budget line items that most closely relate to urban and rural issues, concerns, and policy goals include:
Ensuring sustainable forests requires the involvement of communities that benefit from, and care for, these forests. Aside from the traditional commodity and recreation jobs resulting from healthy, productive forests, efforts to restore healthy forests can help to sustain rural communities by providing new job opportunities. The Forest Service will work with these communities to make sustainable forest management real in the lives of those who live and work in them. Specifically, the Forest Service will:
· Provide technical assistance to communities in the areas of locally based planning and stewardship.
· Encourage and assist individuals and communities to accomplish resource stewardship and conservation on an areawide or watershed basis.
· Promote environmentally sensitive economic development and jobs based on forest resources.
· Expand information, education, and outreach efforts to increase public awareness and understanding of SFM.
An additional concern is how to share with partners and communities the stewardship responsibility of SFM of both NFS lands and the Nation's private forest lands. New and different kinds of collaborative efforts are required at State, Federal, and local levels. Perhaps the most challenging task is helping to build diverse and stable communities while addressing concerns about the health of America's forests.
A main purpose of this report is to monitor the agency's annual accomplishments in activities that lead toward these longer term outcomes, including those on State and privately owned lands. The following graph illustrates a range of possible performance levels for several key indicators. To address total resource needs in a timely fashion, the Forest Service should be operating at the upper levels shown in FY 2002. The lower line for each indicator illustrates what might be expected given recent Congressional appropriations. Future agency budget proposals will request funding that allows implementation at the higher (FY 2002) level as quickly as possible.
National Forest Road System
"There are few more irreparable marks we can leave on the land than to build a road... Our overriding objective is to work with local people to provide a forest road system that best serves the management objectives and public uses of national forests and grasslands while protecting the health of our watersheds."
-- Forest Service Chief Mike Dombeck, 1998
Almost all visitors to the national forests use forest roads. Roads not only provide access, but they also influence the type of experience for most forest visitors by determining where they will go and what they will see. Without roads leading to trailheads, even wilderness areas would be far less accessible.
Much of the existing forest road system was built over the last 50 years for timber harvest access. In the decades following World War II, traffic associated with timber harvest peaked about 1990. When timber harvests on the national forests declined in the 1990s logging traffic plunged to 1950 levels. Logging traffic now accounts for only one-half of 1 percent of all forest road use. By contrast, recreational road use has soared to 13 times its 1950 level.
Vehicles Per Day on Forest Roads
Driving for pleasure is the single largest recreational use on Forest Service managed lands, constituting 36 percent of all recreation there in 1996. In summer, recreational drivers on the national forests account for 13.6 million vehicle-miles per day. The outlook is for recreational road use to grow by 64 percent by the year 2045.
Few natural resource issues in recent years have attracted as much public scrutiny as the management of the forest road system. Though less costly to build and maintain than most public highways, forest roads can have adverse impacts on watersheds, especially if poorly maintained. Yet roads are needed for the goods and services that Americans expect from their national forests. Managers today must wrestle with several complicated issues:
Funding shortfalls. Roads that were originally built to accommodate logging trucks are increasingly carrying people seeking outdoor recreation opportunities. Eighty percent of system roads are not maintained to these higher public safety and environmental standards associated with the new type of use, primarily due to lack of funding.
Environmental damage. Poorly maintained roads can contribute to erosion and landslides, degrading riparian and wetland habitat through sedimentation and changes in streamflow and water temperature. Roads can also block fish and wildlife passage, and modify animal behavior.
Substandard roads. Many roads on the national forests do not meet the latest standards for safety and environmental protection. A complete inventory of substandard roads is needed to prioritize roads for improved maintenance, reconstruction or decommissioning.
Roadless areas. Of the 62 million acres of national forest land classified as roadless in the 1970s, 22 million acres have since been designated as wilderness, with 6 million acres still recommended for wilderness, pending Congressional designation. Of the remaining 34 million acres released for other uses in Land and Resource Management Plans, about 9 million acres are suitable for timber harvest. One million of those acres have since been entered for timber harvest, and by definition are no longer roadless.
Because of the complex issues and strong public opinion regarding this subject, in FY 1998 the agency developed an Interim Rule for an 18-month suspension of road reconstruction and new construction in the remaining roadless areas, pending scientific study, agency review, and public comment.
Clearly a new approach to managing forest roads is needed. Sufficient funding is needed to restore necessary roads to a safe, environmentally sound condition, and/or to close and stabilize unnecessary roads and those that cannot be maintained. Any proposed activities in the relatively few remaining roadless lands need to be carefully evaluated. This new forest road emphasis in the Natural Resource Agenda will improve access for all forest road users while protecting healthy ecosystems through four primary actions:
· Determine the most effective way to provide all Americans with access to the national forests.
· Accelerate the pace of decommissioning unneeded and substandard roads that damage the environment.
· Selectively upgrade forest roads.
· Seek additional funding sources for the transportation system.
Results Act annual performance indicators and budget line items that most closely relate to these issues, concerns, and policy goals include:
America's national forests and grasslands offer some of the greatest outdoor recreation opportunities in the United States. From downhill skiing at Vail, to backcountry expeditions into the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness, to family outings on the national forests that surround California's 20 million residents, national forests provide an incredible range of outdoor opportunities.
Americans are visiting their national forests in growing numbers for life-enriching recreational experiences and for the spiritual renewal that accompanies them. In 1997, the Forest Service hosted an estimated 800 million recreation visits, more than any other jurisdiction or agency. Including skiing, hiking, camping, hunting, fishing, and pleasure driving, the national forests offer visitors:
· 4,348 miles of the National Wild and Scenic River System.
· One-third of the National Wilderness Preservation System.
· National Recreation Areas such as Mt. St. Helen and Hells Canyon.
· About 7,700 miles of Scenic Byways.
· About 133,000 miles of trails.
· Over 23,000 recreation facilities, including campgrounds, trailheads, boat ramps, picnic areas, and visitor centers, in addition to privately owned facilities on NFS land.
· 2.3 million acres of fishable lakes, ponds, and reservoirs.
· The window through which millions of Americans experience their wildland heritage and learn about the land.
Recreation on the national forests has an important economic dimension. The agency estimates that by 2000, economic activity associated with national forest recreation, including wildlife and fish related activities such as viewing, hunting, and fishing, will generate $110.7 billion annually. In 1996, recreational fishing alone generated $8.5 billion worth of economic value.
The Forest Service must also meet the Nation's growing need for outdoor recreation in a manner that protects the health, diversity, and productivity of the land. Over the next 50 years, demand is expected to go from 800 million to 1.2 billion visits to the national forests per year. In addition, people are asking for an ever broader spectrum of benefits and services to enrich their experiences. As the next millennium approaches, the agency will focus on several key areas:
1) improving the settings for outdoor recreation and enhancing visitor experiences,
2) guaranteeing visitor satisfaction with services and facilities,
3) reaching out to rural and urban communities to capitalize on the social and economic opportunities associated with recreation on the national forests,
4) improving access to information about recreation on NFS lands,
5) strengthening relationships with those who cooperate with the agency to improve outdoor recreation for all Americans, and
6) ensuring that recreation use does not impair the land's health.
A priority of the Natural Resource Agenda is to protect and restore the settings for outdoor recreation experiences that millions of Americans have come to expect and enjoy. The substantial facility maintenance backlog must be reduced while preserving and expanding the spectrum of outdoor recreation opportunities available.
Better coordination among program areas and better application of existing research will allow the agency to anticipate recreation trends and to identify the settings and experiences most valued by national forest visitors. For example, research can improve the accuracy of visitor estimates, identify changing patterns of demand, values, behavior, and satisfaction. This will be especially useful in locations with changing ethnicity, and in issues related to rapid technological advances. Research on barriers and conflicts in outdoor recreation will help managers improve environmental justice, reduce user conflicts, and enhance overall satisfaction. Specifically, the Forest Service will:
· Better utilize existing tools, such as the Recreation Fee Demonstration Program and partnerships to manage facilities.
· Prepare a land management planning guide for recreation, heritage, wilderness, and tourism.
· Select models and laboratories of excellence.
· Improve professional recreation management skills.
Today, information technology offers innovative ways of telling Americans about the rich recreation opportunities available. The Forest Service will tailor services to meet visitor needs, using tools such as the Internet to effectively reach targeted audiences, and improve the availability of information so visitors can better plan trips. The agency will also develop strategies to reach non-traditional audiences, such as inner-city youth.
The Forest Service will work closely with partners to give people recreational information and services when and where they want. Through cooperative projects such as the National Recreation Reservation Service, people will be able to obtain information and make reservations for a variety of locations and facilities from a single source or contact. Specifically, the Forest Service will:
· Use a strong marketing and research-based approach.
· Continue using the customer report card, third-party assessments, and other tools for continuous improvement.
· Improve agency presence on the World Wide Web.
· Establish an advisory group to the regional recreation directors.
· Charter a public-private consortium to help match information needs and resources.
Rural communities are diversifying their economic base and expanding their uses of the national forests and grasslands. Communities once solely dependent on timber production are now capitalizing on a wider range of goods and services. Research on communication tools, interpretive services, and environmental education, as well as on visitor spending patterns, will better describe and increase the contribution of recreation and tourism to rural development in and near national forests. Heritage and recreation tourism is also important to urban and suburban areas. The Forest Service will pay increasing attention to the needs of urban Americans and to their impact on the national forests, while providing a wide range of services, education, and experiences. Specifically, the Forest Service will:
· Collaborate with communities, the private sector, and other agencies.
· Encourage efficient delivery of recreation services.
· Showcase outstanding partnerships.
The key to success in outdoor recreation lies in strengthening and expanding working relationships. The Forest Service has long relied on partnerships to provide recreation opportunities. Just as the private sector has found ways to get the job done at a lower cost, the agency is learning that these partnerships enhance the quality of services. Social science research will help identify ways that such partnerships can be improved and expanded. Closer ties with natural resource schools for curriculum development and continuing education partnerships will help maintain a cadre of professional and technical leaders at all levels of the agency. Cooperative efforts will also be expanded through our technology and development centers. Specifically, the Forest Service will:
· Help develop tourism conferences.
· Reestablish regional tourism prom links.gra