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A Partnership for the Future

Tom Tidwell, Chief
Pinchot Institute, 2013 Pinchot Distinguished Lecture
Washington, DC
February 14, 2013 at 3:45pm

It’s a pleasure and an honor to be here for this event commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Pinchot Institute’s founding and dedication at Grey Towers National Historic Site. Many thanks to the Pinchot Institute’s board of directors for honoring me with this opportunity to deliver the 2013 Pinchot Distinguished Lecture.

I look forward to chatting with Char Miller and taking some questions from the audience. I appreciate this opportunity for dialogue on the role our organizations can play in working together for the future of conservation. I’d like to start by saying a little about our partnership with the Pinchot Institute.

As you know, much of the inspiration for both of our organizations came from the Pinchot family. The great conservationist Gifford Pinchot helped President Theodore Roosevelt found the Forest Service in 1905, and he went on to serve as our first Chief. Pinchot’s son, Gifford Bryce Pinchot, donated the Pinchot estate at Grey Towers to the American people to house a new center for natural resource policy. In 1963, President John F. Kennedy came to Grey Towers to dedicate the Pinchot Institute for Conservation.

It was a time of great ferment in the conservation community. The national forests were furnishing great quantities of timber to build homes and communities following World War II. At the same time, growing numbers of Americans were discovering the wonderful opportunities for outdoor recreation on the National Forest System. They were also reading Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac and Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, and concerns were rising about habitat loss for fish and wildlife. To balance competing uses, Congress passed the Multiple Use–Sustained Yield Act and a range of other laws in the 1960s and 70s.

At the time, the emerging trends and their policy implications were anything but clear. In response, the Forest Service turned to the Pinchot Institute for help. Over the years, the Institute has helped us at key points in the policy cycle—with recognizing emerging issues; with formulating and analyzing policy options; and with evaluating the results of our decisions.

A good example is forest certification. The Forest Service encourages private forest landowners and land managers in other countries to participate in forest certification programs. Partly to set an example, we considered adopting forest certification on the national forests. We asked the Pinchot Institute to conduct a pilot study assessing forest management on several units on the National Forest System in terms of two certification programs—the Forest Stewardship Council and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative.

The independent field audits under both of these certification programs found that our forest management met or exceeded requirements under most certification criteria. However, we also had to weigh the tradeoffs. For example, our forest management is already quite process-heavy.

Under the circumstances, we decided not to adopt certification at the time. But the Forest Service continues to have a strong interest in forest certification, and it remains an option that we might at some point pursue. The Pinchot Institute played a key role in increasing our understanding of the importance of certification in managing public forest lands, including the national forests.

The opportunities for working together are now greater than ever because the land management challenges have grown. The challenges we face today are related, in part, to climate change.

Forest Service scientists have conducted decades of research on how climate change is affecting America’s forests. Much of our nation’s related research comes from the Forest Service or is based on data we have collected through our Forest Inventory and Analysis and other programs. We also contribute to global climate change research, including the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Recently, the IPCC issued a report on managing the risks associated with extreme weather events and the ensuing disasters, such as storms and floods. According to the report, climate change affects the frequency, intensity, extent, duration, and timing of extreme weather events. Widespread damage can result, disrupting communities for long periods of time.

In the last two years alone, we have seen blizzards, tornadoes, floods, hurricanes, heat waves, and a massive drought affecting more of our country than any drought since 1988. Hurricane Sandy alone caused more than $60 billion in estimated damages.

These events have broad implications for human well-being and for our ability to fulfill our mission. Other factors also play a role: invasive species have altered many landscapes; a legacy of fire exclusion has contributed to fuel buildups and growing wildfire severity; severe outbreaks of native insect pests and diseases have occurred, such as mountain pine beetle in the West; and population growth and urban development have led to growing loss of open space.

These factors have interacted in multiple ways; some of them are driven, in part, by a changing climate. Together with climate change, they have created unprecedented challenges for land and resource management in the United States.

In response to such challenges, the Forest Service is focusing its efforts in three areas: restoring ecosystems; managing wildland fires; and strengthening communities while providing jobs.

Our central goal is to restore the ability of forest and grassland ecosystems to resist climate-related stresses, recover from climate-related disturbances, and continue to deliver forest-related values and benefits to our citizens. By restoration, we mean restoring the functions and processes characteristic of healthier, more resistant, more resilient ecosystems, even if they are not exactly the same systems as before.

Restoration is central to our National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy. Working with the Department of the Interior, we brought together the entire wildland fire community in developing a joint long-term strategy for managing wildland fire. Our strategy has three core components: restoring fire-adapted ecosystems; building fire-adapted human communities through community wildfire protection plans and programs like Firewise; and responding appropriately to wildfire in a way that effectively manages risk.

Through ecological restoration and effective fire management, we benefit the communities we serve. Communities also benefit in other ways, not least through jobs. The Forest Service has longstanding traditions of providing jobs, training, and community support. According to a study in Oregon, every million dollars invested in restoration-related activities creates 13 to 29 direct, indirect, and induced jobs and generates more than $2 million in economic activity.

Our priorities dovetail with the work of the Pinchot Institute in such areas as climate and energy, water, forests, communities, and policy. For example, we are working together through a public/private partnership called Common Waters. The purpose of the Common Waters Partnership is to conserve clean water, natural places, and working forests in the Upper Delaware River watershed.

The Delaware River basin provides drinking water to 15 million people, including the cities of New York and Philadelphia. This watershed is threatened by development; about 20 acres of forest are lost every day in the Upper Basin alone. The Common Waters Partnership brings stakeholders together across the Upper Delaware Basin to protect forest resources and municipal watersheds, partly by making funds from downstream utilities available to upstream forest landowners for forest conservation and sustainable forest management.

In closing, we have enormous opportunities in this continuing partnership. We have opportunities to work together to restore healthy, resilient forest ecosystems—to ensure that Americans continue to get all the benefits and services they need from their forests, including clean water and renewable resources such as energy. We also have opportunities to restore fire-adapted ecosystems and build fire-adapted human communities. We can also work together to ensure sound policy and to bring more jobs to America’s communities, for the benefit of generations to come.

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