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Sustainable Development e-News


Sustainable Operations—As I See Them

By Rick D. Cables, Regional Forester, Rocky Mountain Region

USDA Forest Service, Golden, Colorado

Rick Cables

In November 2005, the Rocky Mountain Region held its first Sustainability Summit at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colorado.  I was fortunate to not only attend, but to also address summit participants.  The energy in the room on that cool November day was almost visible.  The participants were there because of their passion for changing the way we conduct our day-to-day operations to reduce our overall “ecological footprint.”    They were there because they believed we could do better.

Our ecological footprint represents the fuel we use, the waste we generate, and the energy we consume to support our daily work activities—in the field and in the office.  By reducing our footprint, we operate more sustainably and do our part to conserve the precious natural resources that we are charged to manage.

Our commitment to sustainability must transcend the lands we manage to our everyday consciousness.   We need to implant sustainable conservation deeply into our culture as an agency – and we don’t need more policies or more rules to do it effectively.  What I think we need is to expand our ethic of conservation to touch everything we do, and then take more initiative to tell people what we’re doing and why it’s working.

Here are just a few examples of specific activities in which we can engage:

  • Focus on managing fleet miles driven more effectively.
  • Explore alternative fuels to run our vehicles and heat our buildings.
  • Seek alternative materials to clean our tools and our workplaces.
  • Install automated systems to use less water and electricity in our facilities.

One example of such innovation is the new fuel cell system that we installed at the Big Goose Ranger Station on the Bighorn National Forest in Wyoming.  Two solid oxide fuel cells run on propane to provide power and heat to several buildings and their water systems.  This test project promises to provide energy to the station at less cost and with less pollution.

The Rocky Mountain Region has also purchased Renewable Energy Certificates to help offset costs for using wood from forest thinnings in a co-firing process with coal to generate power.  By encouraging a market for using biomass as an energy source, the Forest Service creates a win-win situation for the public lands and surrounding communities.

Purchasing and driving hybrid vehicles are another example of how we are reducing our reliance on fossil fuels.  As of October 1, 2005, the Rocky Mountain Region had 25 alternative fuel vehicles in its fleet.  Additionally, in 2006, we ordered 48 alternative-fuel vehicles, which represent 27 percent of the entire new vehicle order.

We have so many opportunities to reduce our footprint.  Not only is it the right thing to do, but it also reduces our bottom line–-something from which we all benefit.  I am very proud of the energetic, passionate and committed employees in the Rocky Mountain Region and welcome the opportunity to help pave the way for our agency to improve its sustainable operations.

Rick Cables became Regional Forester of the Rocky Mountain Region in January 2001.  As Regional Forester, he is responsible for managing more than 22 million acres on 17 National Forests and seven National Grasslands, and for facilitating cooperative efforts with state and private landowners in Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Wyoming.

Cables was born in Pueblo, Colorado.  He was graduated from Northern Arizona University School of Forestry in 1976, and began his forestry career on the Kaibab National Forest in Northern Arizona.  After serving on several National Forests in New Mexico and Arizona, he became District Ranger on the Apache and Sitgreaves National Forests.  He then served two years in the Washington Office before his selection to attend, from 1989 to1990, the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.

In 1990, Cables was promoted to Forest Supervisor of the White Mountain National Forest in New Hampshire and Maine.  In 1995, he became the Forest Supervisor of the Pike and San Isabel National Forests and Comanche and Cimarron National Grasslands in Colorado and Kansas.

Before becoming Regional Forester of the Rocky Mountain Region, Cables was Regional Forester of the Alaska Region, covering the Tongass and Chugach National Forests.

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    Last Modified: Friday, April 7, 2006