I am very pleased to be here today. We are here today for two purposes: To celebrate past accomplishments in forest science in the South, and to frame a common vision for the future of southern forestry research and management.
I congratulate all of you on a successful collaborative effort at the Southern Forest Science Conference. These are some of the measures of your success:
- You have brought together many voices. There are folks here from the public and private sectors, from state agencies, land grant and private universities, environmental and natural resource industry and organizations, and federal agencies.
- You have reached across the real or imagined boundaries that divide us, and I welcome that.
- You have laid the basis for working hand-in-hand on the current and future issues our decision-makers must address. I think that is critically important.
Forestry in America began in the South in the 1600s. Even before that, American Indians in the South practiced sustainable land management, partly by using fire to enhance local game and other resources. Today, the nation looks to the South for much of its critical wood supply. The forested lands in the South provide immeasurable benefits to residents and visitors alike. So, as we look toward the future of sustainable forestry in the 21st century, it's fitting to hold this Forest Science Conference here in the South.
This week, you have reflected on the strong history of forest research and development in the South. You have examined the current issues facing forest management on public and private lands. Today, we heard several different perspectives on a strategic vision for the future of southern forestry research and management. What I'd like to do now is to highlight some of what caught my attention here, particularly the common grounds I think we have found through the Southern Forest Resource Assessment and the Montreal Process. Then I'll close by again acknowledging the importance of collaboration for sustainable forest management.
I am particularly delighted that we were able to kick off the Southern Forest Resource Assessment at this conference. The Southern Forest Resource Assessment has been in the works for many years; it represents a tremendous scientific contribution to the management of forest ecosystems. It will help bring social and economic benefits to American citizens for many years.
The Assessment is a peer-reviewed science document. That fact alone will do much to depoliticize the findings. The Assessment sets a new standard for the term "best available science." Here are some of the reasons why this study is so important:
- The Assessment represents a remarkable partnership among four federal agencies and the Southern Group of State Foresters.
- It gives us a comprehensive basis for making informed public policy decisions and for identifying research priorities.
- The Assessment encourages thoughtful public review. It makes each chapter accessible in hypertext, and it incorporates threaded messaging for easy Internet access. That includes easy access both to the material and to the comments of others.
- The Assessment shows how important the decisions are that are made by a multitude of private landowners, with government largely in an advisory role.
Most forests in the South are in private ownership, so the role of the Forest Service's Research and State and Private Forestry programs is especially critical. But that doesn't mean the national forests have no role to play. Findings in the Southern Assessment indicate that national forests will be needed more than ever for recreation and for the protection of rare species.
Now I'd like to talk a little about the Montreal Process. You all know about the Criteria and Indicators for the Conservation and Sustainable Management of Temperate and Boreal Forests. That's a mouthful, so I'm glad it's just Montreal C&I, for short. I think it's fair to say that the Montreal C&I give us a common framework for thinking and talking about sustainable forest management, both in this country and internationally. That's true at this conference as well. The range of papers presented yesterday during the concurrent sessions will provide the basis for a major publication addressing all aspects of the Montreal C&I.
What I'd like to do now is to give you a few examples. The Montreal Process identified seven criteria of sustainable forest management. For each criterion, I'll outline how some of the papers at this conference illuminated key tasks ahead.
The first criterion of sustainable forest management is conservation of biological diversity. Ben Wigley's paper, "Wildlife in Managed Forests: The Evolution of Research in the South," traced the history of forestry and wildlife research in the past century. The paper raised many questions about a direction for the future of ecological relationships and management of wildlife species in southern forests. It called for balancing economic benefits and wildlife habitats in managed forests through adaptive management experiments. The key is to find the ecological factors behind how wildlife responds to management techniques.
The second criterion of sustainable forest management is maintenance of the productive capacity of forest ecosystems. The trick is to choose the best management approach for a specific forest landscape and owner combination. A new tool for this is being developed by the Forest Service's Southern Research Station: the Hypertext Encyclopedia of Southern Appalachian Forest Ecosystems. This is technology transfer at its best. It uses the latest technology to give users the right information in the right form. It synthesizes and delivers knowledge in a way that will truly benefit the American people.
The third criterion of sustainable forest management is maintenance of forest ecosystem health and vitality. We face severe forest health problems. For example, on the national forests alone, some 73 million acres are at risk from wildland fires that could compromise human safety and ecosystem health. Through the National Fire Plan, we're stepping up to the plate. Partly, that's through research to address problems in fire-adapted ecosystems and the wildland/urban interface. One example is the Southern High-Resolution Modeling Consortium, part of the national framework of fire modeling consortiums. The Southern Modeling Consortium will develop tools for predicting local fire weather and smoke patterns. With good prediction tools, fire managers and smoke regulators can safely use fire to maintain ecosystem health.
The fourth criterion of sustainable forest management is conservation and maintenance of soil and water resources. In a conference of this nature, it is vital to recognize the gaps in our knowledge. In a paper called "'Normal Silviculture' and Forested Wetland Loss in the Southeast," the authors examine unauthorized wetland loss due to forestry in the Southeast. Nearly half of the nation's wetlands are in the 10 southeastern states. Wetlands are vital for maintaining water quality, retaining floodwaters, supporting habitat for fish and wildlife, and providing recreation and livelihoods for millions of people. The good news is that the rate of net loss has declined in the past two decades. Still, we need to do more in forestry research and management in terms of monitoring wetlands and in terms of understanding the effects of pine plantations and forestry practices in relation to the Clean Water Act.
The fifth criterion of sustainable forest management is maintenance of forest contribution to global carbon cycles. We've all seen rampant speculation about global warming in the media. It's up to us to develop a clear picture of how human activities affect the world's climate and how forests can reduce the impact through carbon sequestration. I believe a healthy mix of forest management activities, ranging from timber management to habitat protection, can do much to offset the impacts of greenhouse gas production. I am encouraged to hear about the related work going on here in the South that was presented yesterday.
The last two criteria of sustainable forest management are maintenance and enhancement of long-term multiple socioeconomic benefits to meet the needs of societies and legal, institutional, and economic frameworks. According to a paper under the title "Southern Residents' Values and Attitudes Toward Public and Private Forests," the public's changing social and environmental values may be the primary problem facing traditional forestry. A survey by the Forest Service's Southern Research Station suggests that the public generally places the most value on forests for clean air and the least for wood products. However, there seems to be a different attitude toward private forests than toward public forests. Those surveyed seem to value private forests more than public forests for wood products and less for clean air. Public values and attitudes profoundly affect the legal framework for public and private forest management. We need to deepen our understanding through more research in the social and economic sciences. Particularly as we implement the National Fire Plan, we will see more and more need for this type of research.
Final Morning Wrap-up
Before closing, let me say a few words about the presentations this morning. The Forest Service is proud to be a major player in the past and future of forest research and development. I think it's timely and appropriate that our budget for fiscal 2002 includes an increase in research funding. More funding will help us continue our strong research program here in the South and nationwide. Dr. Robert Lewis outlined our program very well.
From the discussions this morning, I sense a high level of enthusiasm for ongoing teamwork among all the players involved in sustaining forested ecosystems throughout the South.
- Arnett Mace from the University of Georgia pointed out that the rapid change that is occurring around us offers unprecedented challenges, given our limited resources. We still face a low supply of fundamental information about the various components of forest resources. We must have a greater number of social scientists involved, and research teams need to be interdisciplinary. Research objectives must be clearly defined. Equipment needed is dramatically increasing in cost. No one entity can operate alone — cooperation is essential — the Internet is a valuable tool for cooperation. Research teams must be from multiple universities, agencies, and the private sector. Traditional and nontraditional partnerships are essential to bring together sufficient expertise and dollars to address the challenges faced by the research community. Dr. Mace stressed that we must be able to respond faster to change, we must stay focused, we need to be even more creative in developing partnerships, and we must always leverage, leverage, leverage. And, most importantly, always remember that it is people who always make the difference — and I must say that I strongly endorse that remark.
- Jim Hull from the Texas Forest Service, representing the Southern Group of State Foresters, stressed the great need by the states for timely, accurate forest survey data in an annualized fashion. It's the nucleus for politics, for leveraging, and for our program. We are headed down the road toward establishing the Southern Annual Forest Inventory System, and there is nothing more important to the states. And, of course, fire is always an important topic — we have a great need for support in dealing with wildfire throughout the South. Our congressional delegation has a low understanding how important forest resources are in the South, and we can work together in the future to help them understand and appreciate the importance of southern forest resources and research. Jim asked if we are prepared to deal with forestry in a dry cycle for the next 20 to 30 years. He raised several questions that are important to nonindustrial private forest landowners and that he feels need to be addressed in the future. I want to assure Jim that we at the Forest Service are listening; we do promise to work more closely in partnership with the states on these key issues and in setting research priorities with our partners.
- Al Lucier from the National Council on Air and Stream Improvement discussed the impacts of the cultural revolution on the forestry research community. In the process of reacting to immediate needs, developing core competencies has been neglected, and in the face of flat or declining budgets, we have been unable to maintain core programs. We can revitalize forestry research by focusing on three critical areas: productivity (which pays the bills), environment, and policy. Research has a valuable role to play in affecting policy — providing accurate, timely data to policymakers; and evaluating policy and technology options for optimizing environmental performance in the forest sector. I certainly agree with Al that the South has a vital role to play in leadership for sustainable forest management.
- Lark Hayes from the Southern Environmental Law Center offered perspectives from the nonprofit environmental community. Maintaining an open dialogue and working relationships across agency and private sector lines is an important part of making research relevant in the South. Understanding what the public cares about is a touchstone for determining research priorities. Interpretation of information depends on the paradigms of those doing the interpreting, and better synthesis will be critical — efforts should be interdisciplinary from the get-go, during the framing of the questions to be addressed. Lark reiterated the need for policy-relevant research information. Reacting to changing demands is going to continue to be a challenge for the southern forest research community.
This morning, we heard about the many areas where a response from the research community will be needed in the near future. We heard many specifics, some of which might seem to conflict; we also heard many common threads. The challenges for the South are numerous, but so are the opportunities. What is evident is the need for collaboration. I think this conference has made a valuable contribution to collaboration. That's what has made it such a success. If our past accomplishments point to one thing, it's the need to continue to cross jurisdictional boundaries for sustainable forest management on a landscape level. Finding common ground is critical in both forest research and forest management if we are to meet the challenges of the 21st century.
A lot of seeds were sown this week. They give us all hope for the future of sustainable forest management. We all need to continue nurturing these seedlings of hope by continuing to build partnerships for the future of our forests.