Mr. Ambassador … JNF President Ron Lauder … and the JNF Board of Directors: Thank you for inviting me to share in this Tu B'Shevat Program, which honors the 100th anniversary of the Jewish National Fund.
My own agency, the USDA Forest Service, will celebrate its centennial in 2005. We both have a long and proud history. The New Century of Service pins you received help symbolize our past contributions and the fresh spirit of service we want to bring to our mission of "caring for the land and serving people."
Before I continue, let me introduce my colleagues who will be part of this celebration:
- Sally Collins, the Associate Chief of the Forest Service.
- Val Mezainis, Director of our International Programs
- Thomas Hoekstra, Director of the Inventory and Monitoring Institute as well as Manager of our Middle East Program.
I know I speak for all of us when I say we are honored to be guests at this special event.
In some of my discussions last fall with Gideon Witkon, Russell Robinson, and Zevi Kahanov, I learned a lot about the JNF's role in Israel during the last 100 years.
Your work includes land acquisition and management, tree planting, soil and water conservation, and land development for new settlements. That's quite a range of responsibility for a single organization.
Three Chiefs before me have been to Israel; I hope to be the fourth. I recently accepted an invitation to visit Israel in early May and see firsthand what you've accomplished there. I'm also interested in seeing the fruits of our partnership.
In North America, we are blessed with abundant, diverse forests and woodlands. Managing this land to provide valuable renewable resources has its challenges. I understand that you are facing some of the same challenges in Israel in the face of increasing public scrutiny.
My colleagues and I know a lot about public scrutiny. Don't we?
We'll be happy to share our experience and our pain — there's plenty of both to go around. Perhaps you can't acquire the first without experiencing a lot of the second. But I'm not discouraged. I believe we'll come together at some point, as Americans, and focus on what unites us instead of what divides us. Personally, I applaud the intent of our environmental laws; but the people who actually do the work on the land will tell you that all the laws, regulations, and procedures can make it hard to do good resource management on the land.
Our goal at the Forest Service is to work with our fellow Americans to strike the right balance between social, economic, and ecological sustainability. In this way we can meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs — and make their own informed choices.
We must get together as Americans to restore the national forests to health. The tragic events of September 11 reminded us again how Americans pull together in times of crisis. The Forest Service is leading an initiative to create four living memorials for the victims of that terrorist attack. A network of state, local, and nonprofit groups will bring people together to plant and care for the memorials in New York, Pennsylvania, northern Virginia, and Washington, D.C. We invite you to join us in that work
Our relationship with the Jewish National Fund, now 15 years old, is a good model of how two organizations can work together for the benefit of everyone. The roots of our collaboration began with technical exchanges on the subject of fire. We continue to share our experience and technology in this area.
The global causes and consequences of fire are increasingly visible, from Siberia to Southeast Asia. In Siberia, an outbreak of fires can cover millions of acres; in 1915, smoke plumes from Siberian fires combined to form a cloud the size of Europe. The consequences of fire on this scale can affect global climate, perhaps long-term.
Another example: In Indonesia in the late 1990s, the effects of El Niño resulted in a severe drought. Annual burning done by farmers and others as part of their agrarian traditions resulted in huge fires that destroyed native forests. The smoke generated by the fires closed airports and scorched lungs for months.
It benefits all of us to share what we know. Parts of Siberia are already benefiting from U.S. prescribed fire techniques for land management. International fire studies in the Amazon, where fires often burn for months, can help the Brazilians protect their forests and grasslands.
And the United States benefits from other countries. During our 2000 fire season, one of the most severe ever, some 800 international firefighters came here from Australia, Canada, Israel, Mexico, and New Zealand.
Besides working together on fire, JNF and the Forest Service have carried out more than 100 technical exchange missions on a full range of natural resource management subjects. We codeveloped a forestry education program where Israeli foresters can come to the United States for training. They can even earn a master's degree in forestry or a related field of study.
The JNF — in cooperation with some Israeli universities — is working with Forest Service researchers on some of the arid land problems that face both countries. These studies include fire, insect and disease problems, and landscape management of Mediterranean oak.
Let's not forget water. The arid landscape of Israel has a lot in common with the southwestern United States. We both know that healthy watersheds give us clean water. We have long-term studies underway to strengthen the scientific basis for watershed protection and restoration. In the years ahead, we expect the National Fire Plan to let us move forward with even more projects to maintain and restore watershed function. I see opportunities for collaboration and information sharing on water; I'm sure you do, too.
One of JNF and the Forest Service's most recent collaborations here in the United States is the celebration of Tu B'Shevat. As we celebrate here today, the Tonto National Forest and the JNF office in Phoenix are cosponsoring a celebration in Phoenix for the second year. They are planting a tree, enjoying the fruit, and dancing — all of the wonderful things that go with Tu B'Shevat.
The Tonto is a major urban-use forest, and JNF is an important local partner there. Three years ago, the Angeles National Forest in California had a similar event. With your continued help and friendship, we hope to expand the program across the country.
Tree of Faith
You know, speaking of trees, Barbara Walters once got into a lot of trouble because she asked one of her guests, "If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be?" Well, I'm not on TV, so I'm going to risk an analogy here, and it involves a tree.
Our partnership keeps growing stronger, branching out to new locations and new activities. It's working, I think, because both sides bring a lot of faith to the table. The dictionary defines faith as "confident belief in the truth, value, or trustworthiness of a person, idea, or thing." That certainly applies here. Our partnership is a tree of faith; may it live forever.
In closing, let me say again how honored we are to be here. Thanks for listening.