USDA FOREST SERVICE : Strategic Planning and Resource Assessment

Management's Discussion and Analysis

Our Focus on Existing Priorities

In FY 2003, the Forest Service defined what it saw as the four greatest threats to the health of the Nation’s national forests and grasslands: fire and fuels, invasive species, loss of open space, and unmanaged recreation. To successfully address these threats, the Forest Service must also ensure that its business and financial practices meet the highest standards. The FY 2003 priorities, including the four threats noted above, have been addressed under the four main goals of the Forest Service’s 2000 Strategic Plan. The following discussion describes the interrelationships among these four threats. For FY 2003, the Forest

Service focused on the following priorities.

Goal 1—Ecosystem Health

Fire and Fuels

Long-standing fire suppression practices have resulted in dense undergrowth buildup in some forests, depleting the health and resiliency of forests and grasslands to fire and pests. This buildup of fuels can become a tinderbox even under such natural conditions as drought or extreme fire seasons. These buildups of fuels, along with the relatively recent and rapid conversion of forests and ranchlands to “ranchettes” and subdivisions, have resulted in a loss of lives and homes.

Invasive Species

Many catastrophic wildfires, especially those in proximity to urban forests, are the effects of several complex interactions among natural systems and human-made systems. Other fire and forest management practices have altered the species composition and distribution within forests and grasslands, making these systems more susceptible to insect attack and invasive species. This susceptibility often also results in an unnatural buildup of fuels from dead and dying vegetation.

Unmanaged Recreation

In an increasingly urbanized landscape across the Nation, more people are spending their leisure time camping, hiking, or doing other recreational activities. Increasingly, motorized off-highway vehicles (OHVs) are a part of the recreation experience, with the numbers of OHV users rising from 19.4 million in 1982-1983 to 27.9 million in 1994-1995. In 2000-2001, the number of participants was 37.2 million, which shows nearly a doubling of use since 1982-1983. Such overuse not only degrades habitat but also heightens the risk of wildfires, especially during periods of drought. The Forest Service has been working with the public to manage this issue and provide the recreation experience valued by the public.

The Forest Service has focused on several other important actions to address its ecosystem health goals. To mitigate future catastrophic wildland fires, the Forest Service is working to improve its ability to assess, prevent, manage, and restore the contributors to this problem, including invasive species, buildup of fuels, unmanaged recreation, and the conflicting uses of forested lands on or near the wildland-urban interface areas in, or near, forested lands where Americans build their homes. Recognizing how these four threats are interrelated, Forest Service leadership and scientists can help managers, partners, and the American people minimize unintended outcomes to natural and human communities.

In FY 2003, using more than $226 million budgeted for hazardous fuels treatments, the Forest Service treated approximately 1.4 million acres, almost half of which were in the wildland-urban interface. The agency projects that it will be able to treat hazardous fuels on a similar number of acres in FY 2004.

In FY 2003, Congress enacted the stewardship contracting authority of the Forest Service (included in the FY 2003 Omnibus Appropriations Act). In addition, the Healthy Forests Restoration Act, H.R. 1904, was approved by the House in May and reported by the Senate Agriculture Committee in July 2003.

To effectively address the scope of President Bush’s Healthy Forests Initiative, the Forest Service is focused on:

  • Implementing the Healthy Forests Initiative to improve the condition of the Nation’s forests and grasslands.
  • Continuing implementation of the 10-Year Comprehensive Strategy of the National Fire Plan (NFP) with 20 Western States and other Federal agencies to reduce wildland fire risks to communities and the environment.
  • Detecting, preventing, and controlling the increasing threat of insects, disease, and noxious weeds, including those classified as invasive species, to enhance the integrity and viability of forest, grassland, and aquatic ecosystems.
  • Predicting and managing the cumulative effects of different land uses, while reducing the disturbance of conflicting uses encountered with changes in housing and population density adjacent to the national forests and grasslands.
  • Assessing the new uses and monitoring the increased levels of existing use of OHVs, as well as preventing or controlling their effects, which include the spread of invasive weeds, erosion of fragile soils, destruction to vegetation, and damage to riparian areas and species.

Further details on the Healthy Forests Initiative are located at http://www.whitehouse.gov/infocus/healthyforests/toc.html.

The Forest Service continued its efforts on a new National Forest Management Act Planning Rule and final directives for planning guidance (to be released by USDA in FY 2004). The new rule and directives raise the bar on environmental analysis, provide the highest level of protection for animal and plant species, and include meaningful public involvement and use expert-based science that is nationally and internationally recognized.

The Forest Service also addressed Roadless Rule revisions that are intended to improve implementation and better involve affected individuals and State. In addition, the Forest Service has been working to amend the Sierra Nevada Framework, covering 11.5 million acres of NFS lands in California to improve the framework’s flexibility and compatibility with other important programs, including fire and fuels management, grazing, and recreation.

Goal 2—Multiple Benefits to People

A significant unintended outcome of the unnaturally extreme wildland fires was the depletion of funds appropriated for wildland fire suppression in FY 2002, and again in FY 2003. In both years, the agency transferred funds from nonwildland fire management program accounts to the wildland fire suppression account to pay for suppression costs. These transfers of funds for fire suppression have far-reaching impacts not only on the Forest Service, but also on agency partners and cooperators, including universities, organizations, States, tribes, and communities. Numerous activities and projects designed to manage the forests and grasslands or to assist State or private landowners with managing their lands are delayed or completely forgone as a consequence of these transfers.

In FY 2002, approximately $1 billion was transferred from agency nonwildland fire management programs to support wildland firefighting efforts. Congress appropriated $636 million in FY 2003, specifically to restore those transferred funds.

In FY 2003, the Forest Service again needed to transfer funds from nonwildland fire management accounts. Specifically, monies were taken from the following programs:

  • Land Acquisition.
  • Capital Improvement and Maintenance.
  • WCF.
  • NFS (vegetation management and fish and wildlife habitat).
  • S&PF (providing forest health technical and financial assistance to communities, nonindustrial private landowners, States, and other Federal agencies).
  • R&D (developing and transferring new technology).
  • Salvage Sale Fund.
  • Timber-Purchaser-Elect.
  • Knutson Vandenburg.
  • Brush Disposal.
  • Recreation Fee Demo.
  • Forest Land Enhancement Program (FLEP).

By the end of FY 2003, the amount transferred was $695 million, resulting in numerous nonwildland fire management projects and activities being cancelled or postponed.

Healthier forests, the intended outcome of the Healthy Forests Initiative, could greatly reduce the potential for catastrophic wildland fires, which, in turn should reduce fire suppression costs dramatically. However, aggressive national wildland fire management efforts may only control costs up to a point as the extent of the wildland-urban interface continues to expand.

Also, the current buildup of hazardous fuel on Federal and non-Federal lands may be occurring at two or three times the level of treatment. In FY 2003, the Forest Service developed and implemented a strategy for cost containment on large wildfires.

This strategy incorporates the action items of the Chief’s Incident Accountability Report, reinforcing the need for additional, highly skilled incident business advisors on all Type I incidents, as well as Type II incidents with the potential to be of high cost. When incidents exceed $12 to $15 million, a support staff is assigned to the incident to ensure application of appropriate financial skills in fire business management, contracting or procurement, and fire operations.

The Forest Service continued to work with the U.S. Department of the Interior to improve overall efficiency to meet all the expectations of the Northwest Forest Plan, covering more than 24 million acres of public lands. Two new amendments to the plan will be completed in FY 2004: one to clarify language in the Aquatic Conservation Strategy, and the other to change the Survey and Manage program.

Goal 3—Scientific and Technical Assistance

In 2003, the Forest Service priorities related to scientific and technical assistance included activities connected to the Healthy Forest Initiative; Invasive Species, including Sudden Oak Death; Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA); and Global Climate Change.

Healthy Forests Initiative

Fire exclusion, insect and disease infestations, invasive species, and other factors have added greatly to the challenge of maintaining and improving forest health and sustainability. Forest Service R&D developed a wide range of knowledge and tools to improve the ability of forest and rangeland managers to reintroduce fire to a more natural role; improve the cost-effectiveness of mechanical fuel management treatments; control introduced plants, insects, and diseases; and keep native insect and disease losses to an acceptable level. These tools will assist land managers in prioritizing vegetation and fuel treatments, in planning and executing prescribed burns and insect and disease management, and in managing wildfires more effectively.

Invasive Species

Invasive species are the single greatest threat to forest and rangeland health, resulting in economic losses caused by natural resource impacts and increased control and restoration costs. Emerging issues, such as the Sudden Oak Death epidemic in California, present a national threat. Effective management of invasive species requires a scientific and operational response from the Forest Service, integrated with public and private partners. Forest Service R&D funds support work on invasive plants and pathogen and invasive aquatic and terrestrial vertebrates and invertebrates.

Forest Inventory and Analysis

FIA is the Nation’s continuous forest census, the number one source of current information on status and trends in America’s forest resources. Products include estimates and maps of forest cover and change; rates of forest growth, harvest, and mortality; descriptions of forest structure and species composition; and data on forest soils, vegetative diversity, and fuel loads.

Program customers include State forestry agencies, Federal and State policymakers, corporations and consultants, researchers, environmental organizations, land managers, media, and anyone interested in reliable, current forest data.

Common applications of FIA data include State-level assessments of forest sustainability, maps of fire fuel loads and risk, carbon budgets and sequestration opportunities, assessments of forest health, and estimates of timber consumption and supply.

Global Climate Change

The Nation’s forests are significant carbon sinks that are critical to increasing terrestrial carbon sequestration. Forest Service R&D is developing improved monitoring, analysis and projection, and management systems to understand, mitigate, and capitalize on climate change. Active forest management can enhance carbon sequestration by increasing the removal rate of CO2 from the atmosphere and storing carbon in the mass of the woody parts (biomass) on dead or alive trees, shrubs, or bushes, soil, and litter. Advances in forest management systems and technologies improve the ability to capture and allocate carbon in forests and wood products.

Goal 4—Effective Public Service

A major priority in FY 2003 was improving the Forest Service’s business and financial operations, including the initiatives of the President’s Management Agenda (PMA). Under the PMA, the agency continues to implement competitive sourcing and business process reengineering through the A-76 process. Please refer to the section titled President’s Management Initiatives for detailed Forest Service accomplishments.

Also, in an effort to develop excellence in its future leadership, the Forest Service initiated activities and goals related to leadership development and succession planning. The Forest Service revised its 5-year strategic plan in the Strategic Plan for Fiscal Years 2004-2008, which focuses on outcomes to achieve sustainable resource management and which addresses the four key threats mentioned above. This update sets agency goals and objectives from 2004 through 2008. As a subset of this document, a strategic plan for the entire Business Operations program was developed that describes performance expectations for all administrative staffs and programs.

A Forest Service priority to integrate budget, finance, and performance accountability has led to the development of a Performance Accountability System (PAS). In FY 2003, the agency assessed existing processes and systems related to budget, performance, and accountability and began an effort to develop a consolidated set of activities linking strategic plan objectives and performance measures from the updated Strategic Plan to program and budget formulation, execution, and reporting. In its initial stages of development, the PAS is scheduled for full implementation in 2006, beginning with budget formulation, and will be used in 2005 for budget execution and reporting. A pilot project is currently underway in Region 10 ( Alaska) to develop a set of operational level measures to support budget and strategic plan integration.

On the basis of its successes in reducing the size of the national office and increasing cost effectiveness, the Forest Service sent additional funding to the field for on-the-ground projects and programs.

Forest Service leadership is fully committed to all aspects of the agency’s Civil Rights program and to the quality of work life for all of its employees. In 2003, special areas of emphasis have been in Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) Complaint Processing and Improved Workforce Diversity.

In EEO Complaint Processing, the Forest Service:

  • Maintained the resolution rate of informal complaints at about 52 percent with a 36-percent
  • Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) rate in the EEO informal process and a 54 percent resolution rate using traditional counseling.
  • Cut the number of formal complaints filed from 207 in FY 02 to 149 in FY 03.
  • Conducted a survey to ensure guidance of going to good faith ADR except in rare circumstances.
  • Streamlined processing—including Forest Service field Civil Rights directors’ involvement in complaint resolution and coordination—of complaints after studying the roles and responsibilities of Civil Rights, Human Resource Management, and ADR.
  • Submitted 96 percent of the EEO counselor reports to the USDA Civil Rights Staff on time.
  • Decreased the per capita rate of formal complaints to .4 percent, which is .2 percent below the USDA’s .6 percent average.
  • Demonstrated increasing accountability in the area of Civil Rights as shown in quarterly complaint leadership reports issued to Forest Service leadership from the Associate Chief and Deputy Chief of Business Operations.
  • Decreased the number of informal complaints from 534 to 462.

In Improved Workforce Diversity, the Forest Service:

  • Increased its diversity, outreach, and performance indicators; and funding has been reallocated based on sound measurements.
  • Modified the Forest Service Chief’s Workforce Advisory Group (CWAG) charter to include diversity presentations and studies conducted; diversity measurements are now underway with leadership to communicate and aggressively focus on hiring in FY 2004.
  • Developed and distributed the Forest Service Affirmative Employment Plan to Forest Service leadership.
  • Addressed reasonable accommodations in presentations with USDA at three regional sites and the Washington Office. Also, drafted a standard operating procedure. Ongoing work includes developing a civil rights database and designing a Train-the-Trainer module with the Office of Personnel Management.
  • Retained only 15 program complaints in the Forest Service inventory with more than 212 million visitors annually to national forests.
  • Implemented the $1.6 million National Civil Rights Capacity Building Program, which consisted of $1.1 million to the Historically Black Colleges and Universities program, $100,000 to Tribal Colleges and Universities, $335,000 to Hispanic-Serving Institutions, and $35,000 to Asian Pacific communities outreach program.
  • Employed 24 USDA 1890 Scholars enrolled in 12 Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and employed 24 interns from the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities.