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USDA Forest Service
Sustainable Resource Management
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Sustainable Development e-News

Special Feature

In Her Own Words:
A Conversation With Kathryn P. Maloney,
Director, Northeastern Area State and Private Forestry

Partnering, Cooperating, and Collaborating for Land and
Forest Sustainability

NEWTOWN SQUARE, Pa.--Partnership. Collaboration. Cooperation. Those words resonate widely with USDA Forest Service partners, employees, and other stakeholders. At heart, they mean working together to accomplish common missions and goals, related tasks, or complementary initiatives.

For Kathryn Maloney, partnership, collaboration, and cooperation are the fulcrum for assisting states, private landowners, and other cooperators to engage in sustainable management of the Nation's lands and forests. All are particularly critical for programs of the Northeastern Area (NA) State and Private Forestry. Why? Because of the size and scope of NA: 20 states and the District of Columbia; 43% of the U.S. population; more than 170 million acres of forests (23% of the Nation's forests), almost all of which are non-federal forests; and more than 4 million private landowners. They are also critical for leveraging federal investments and for sustaining the public benefits that emanate from private forest lands.

NA promotes partnership with state foresters and state forestry agency staff, focusing on how that partnership influences the wise management, protection and sustainable use of rural to urban lands, and enhances the capacity of private forestlands to provide benefits for a growing America.

NA cooperates with state partners to develop and use tools that help us be more effective, and in some cases tools that help us evaluate our effectiveness. The identification and application of sustainability criteria and indicators (C&I) are one example of such efforts. Together, partners work across state boundaries in compiling and assessing data and in tracking common indicators over time. This exemplary work strengthens Forest Service institutional capacity for collaborative assessment, planning, and decisionmaking processes designed to address shared concerns among NA states.

Maloney holds a BS degree in mineral economics from Pennsylvania State University and an MBA (with honors) in finance and investments from George Washington University. She joined the Forest Service in 1981, and has been in her current position since 2001. Maloney has served in the National Forest System and Programs and Legislation deputy areas, and as the Director of the Strategic Planning and Resource Assessment Staff in Washington, D.C.

Kathryn P. Maloney
Kathryn P. Maloney

Q: Partnership is a fundamental element of Northeastern Area (NA) programs. Who are your partners, broadly?

A: We have an area that comprises 20 states and the District of Columbia. We consider our first partners to be the state foresters in those 20 states and the District of Columbia. In most cases, we work with the Department of Natural Resources, in some cases for the Department of Agriculture in the states, so it's those individuals and their staff that are our first partners--and we work very closely with them. In fact, our programs for the most part are delivered through those state organizations to the private landowners in those states. In addition, we have established partnerships and cooperative agreements with many others including communities, non-government organizations, and universities.

From your perspective, how do you use C&I to help you achieve your management goals?

Let me first say that it is a work in progress. I believe C&I are useful tools to gauge progress, enable accountability, and inform decisionmaking. We're not there yet, "there" being where C&I are really an integral part of a system of management, helping to inform our next decision, our next set of choices. But we are certainly working toward that end.

In the NA, we are engaged with the state partners working to track 18 of the Montréal Process indicators. We are improving awareness and engaging people in understanding the relevance of C&I.

How does NA increase our understanding of C&I?

Over the last several years, we in NA and our partners have put together two C&I publications: Sourcebook on Criteria and Indicators of Forest Sustainability in the Northeastern Area and Sustainability Assessment Highlights for the Northern United States. These are excellent resources that increase our understanding of C&I, and their application to planning.

Our first step for the Sourcebook was to take a look at what information was available and where and from whom, because every bit of information we chose to look at cost something to have. So we looked at the information states were already collecting or had available.

We also looked at the Forest Inventory Analysis (FIA) work that has received greater attention and funding in recent years. And the FIA information is ultimately going to provide data for about two-thirds of the indicators of the Montréal Process.

In reviewing available data, we chose 18 indicators that span all seven criteria. We were interested in a comprehensive look at C&I at a low cost, rather than trying to address all 67 indicators. As time goes on and we gain experience in using this information, we may expand our initial set of indicators.

The purpose of the information--for example, in the Sourcebook--is to show both the importance of having C&I and their utility as a common language of measures among our many partners.

What is the value of both tracking and measuring outcomes?

We began by establishing a baseline of current or recent data for each of the 18 indicators. Then we began to monitor. That's going to enable us look at trends and begin to make some judgment whether the things being done on the ground are having the appropriate effects.

Please clarify, for the benefit of our readers, how sustainable development of land relates to sustainable development of forests?

They are different, I think. To me, lands have a broader context than forests. Obviously, they are related. But when we talk about sustainable development of land we have to think about more things perhaps than just about forests.

Fundamentally, sustainable forest is about having a healthy, viable forest that provides all of the benefits that we can think of in a forest, not only for this generation, but for future generations.

And so we have to think much about the seven criteria--about not only the biological and physical sustainability, but also the economic and social things that go along with that. And not just recreation opportunities and economic opportunities that come from using forest products.

It is important to be clear about what we are trying to sustain. Let's consider the example of New York City, whose current land use in Manhattan is a city and is sustainable as long as there is a willingness to make investments to keep it going. Sustaining a city requires investment in public services such as transportation, sewer, and water infrastructure. By contrast, foresters tend not to think about these things, but rather about investments in forest health, regeneration, fuel reduction, and the like to sustain the forest.

My goal is to vigorously pursue the mission of the Northeastern Area State and Private Forestry. That requires that we reach and influence the management of nearly a quarter of the Nation's forests. The benefits to the public of the sound management of these overwhelmingly (92%) private forests are significant ecologically, economically, and socially. We work across the rural to urban landscape, assisting private landowners with technical information to manage their forest lands in a sustainable manner, and helping communities (even in cities) improve natural conditions. We gain on a couple of different fronts in urban settings: trees and their effects on air quality and temperatures, as well as reducing storm water runoff and the adverse effects associated with it. While most of our work is directed to forested lands, our work in urban settings is very important.

NA is working with Chicago, where Mayor Daley has made a huge investment in Chicago GreenStreets Program, which helps the city revitalize run-down neighborhoods, enhance public open space, and use tree-planting and landscaping to reduce noise, air pollution, and summer heat. And NA is also assisting Chicago Wilderness, a coalition of about 200 organizations dedicated to protecting and restoring the natural heritage in and around Chicago.

Similarly, in New York City, NA personnel have created a mapping software program that provides information, accessible to communities and their leaders, on where green spaces are or could be in the city. Other cities are adapting the software for use in their communities.

After we were attacked on 9/11, the Forest Service engaged in a Living Memorials Project, creating living memorials (with trees) to those who lost their lives on 9/11 in New York City and elsewhere. One Forest Service project, The Legacy Groves of Somerset County, is a living memorial to those lost on Flight 93 and an appreciation of the efforts of first responders who sustained the Somerset County community.

Collaboration is the lifeblood of your sustainable development activities across all 20 states of the Northeast and Midwest, and the District of Columbia. What role, if any, have C&I played in bringing people together?

The fact is that C&I were a product of a collaborative effort in the international arena. That collaborative process sought a common language, data, and measures. The fact that C&I emerged from a very thoughtful, collaborative process has made it a high-quality product that is inherently valuable. It has made it easier for people like me and for an organization like NA to pick it up and use it to engage people and organizations with similar interests.

C&I have this inherent value and they make sense. The next steps are getting everyone's genuine involvement and commitment to using them to help us in our decisionmaking. That's a bit more of a challenge than getting the initial acceptance. But we're making progress.

I am extremely proud of the state foresters for having rallied around the 18 indicators. Some of the state foresters have said that they are not really sure where we are going with this, but they are OK with being on the train with us.

This is good because now in government we are being held accountable for our decisions and performance. If we are the professional organization that we claim to be, I'd argue that those indicators have to have a much greater influence on our decisionmaking in the future.

The C&I, as well as laws regarding performance in government, have been around for more than 10 years. Why aren't we further along with this integration?

Every organization has a culture, and tends to do what it does because it's more comfortable and easier. It's easier to continue what we have been doing, rather than to go after any decidedly different decision in a very large organization. Change takes an awful lot of energy.

And the Forest Service is no different in this regard--and our propensity for decentralization gives greater autonomy to the lower levels of the organization to do their thing, that's part of our culture. And it's a good thing in many regards, but it's not necessarily a good thing in every regard. In the cases of C&I and performance tied to the Agency's strategic plan, each is some distance from our cultural norms, creating some tension.

Kathy, as you've stated, you've developed, over the years, excellent relationships with a number of partners, state agencies, and NGOs. What's the Rosetta stone for building such productive relationships?

If there is a key, it is genuine sharing, early and often! The state foresters and their staff were involved from the get-go in crafting those two documents: the Sourcebook and the Sustainability Assessment Highlights. Partnerships are fundamentally about shared responsibility, shared power, and shared information. There must be clear understanding of roles and how decisions are made; there must be a genuine commitment to sharing.

To the extent that roles are not clear, there will be tension and discomfort within a partnership. I am working to make clear to my partners where I see my decision space, and how we as partners can work together with that in mind. For example, the Forest Service's and state forestry organizations' missions and goals largely overlap, but I still have an obligation to ensure that we use our federal programs and funds to address regional or national needs. Sometimes, this does not exactly match what an individual state wants.

In working with your state partners to "step down" the Montréal Process C&I, there have been, no doubt, some rough edges leading to agreement. What's an example of a challenge and how did you move beyond the problem?

"Stepping down" raises a number of concerns. One concern is that states have to meet existing reporting requirements, and new things like C&I may add to that workload.

It is my belief that when the Forest Service actually integrates C&I, then C&I reporting and monitoring will not be additive, but will be part of a management system. We would stop requiring data and reports on things that are not useful to informing our next decisions.

We are not there yet; we don't have an integrated system of reporting in our Agency. We in NA are working to be in an outstanding position to take advantage of this new systematic approach to decisionmaking. It is an investment that will pay off in these 20 states in better forest management and in more recognition of the contribution to sustaining the Nation's forests.

The Northeastern Area's monitoring efforts, guided by 18 "base indicators," are ongoing. Are there specific lessons from your experience that resource managers and landowners should be aware of?

The 18 are based on a shared recognition that we want to do something positive and to add value in dealing with the Montréal Process C&I. We don't have a lot of money to invest in monitoring and we don't want to go after monitoring with such enthusiasm that we sink our ship in the process.

I believe what we are doing is thoughtful and calculated in the sense of balancing interests and investments and risks. It is an iterative process of the state staff group--what we call the Planners' Group--developing and presenting proposals to the NA and the Northeastern Area Association of State Foresters, evaluating reactions, and refining the effort.

What would you consider two noteworthy "best practices" in the application of the Montréal Process to ground activities in the Northeastern Area?

The first, I would say, is quickly recognizing that there's value in working with state partners to get a foothold on C&I as they relate to the mission we share; that the integration and use of C&I are not things that NA can do effectively alone.

The second is that the Planners' Group, absolutely tireless in its efforts, has been engaged for many years, beginning in the 1980s, in a deliberate process to integrate goals, objectives, and results.

The Montréal Process C&I are undergoing a formal review and revision this year. What modifications would you suggest? In other words, what should be done to make the indicators more useful to ground activities?

The C&I are not perfect, so refinements are to be expected. I worry, though, about the process of refining something we don't know much about--something that we are yet to understand through use and application.

We desperately need to get ourselves committed to a system of management that incorporates our budget process, performance accountability, the new Forest Planning Rule, and other things, as appropriate parts of a system. But, as a corporate whole, we don't yet have it. We need to get there; the sooner, the better. And it is my hope that C&I will be an integrated part of that systematic management.

There is a tendency, I believe, for us to focus on one or another part, like the budget process or performance measures, and work to perfect them. At the same time, relatively little focus is placed on system relationships and what is needed to achieve the deliberate motion of the pieces working together. This is challenging work.

Let's talk about the National Report on Sustainable Forests--2003, on which I have a three-part question:

a) How specifically do resource managers, other resource professionals, and landowners apply its findings?
b) What gems in that report do they find most useful to ground activities?
c) Finally, how can a future report better meet your needs?

First, I believe the report is highly valued and that upper-level managers will find it useful for describing national trends everyone needs to be aware of. The report establishes context for lower-level managers to see how their planning area contributes to an emerging issue or its solution, and technical people will be able to tease out more information from the data.

Second, what gems? The biggest gem to me is to have the C&I framework itself in place. This advances the notion of a common language for sustainability. I stress collaboration and partnerships because I believe there is no other way to achieve our goals. I have found that partners from diverse backgrounds and interests are willing to come to the table and talk about C&I. It's a big deal to have an agreed-upon language of C&I when working in such a complex environment as we have here in NA.

Third, we need to understand that we can produce a high quality paper-and-ink report, and it may not attract wide readership. We have to separate the gems for the different audiences, say, gems for private landowners, for resource managers, and so on, to help audiences understand what we understand at the regional level and at the local level.

Therefore, our challenge is to figure out how to present information in a way--perhaps as sound bites--that can be quickly grasped. We need to work harder at demonstrating the use and application of this information as well. What decisions were affected by the C&I information and how were they different?

You are one of three management representatives on Joel Holtrop's sustainability team. Regarding Joel's goal of broadening and deepening the application of C&I and the principles of sustainability, what are some of the key management challenges facing our Agency?

When the notion of C&I came out in the 1990s, the National Association of State Foresters wrote a letter to the Forest Service in which it wanted us to "adopt" C&I. With the newness and organizational culture, we were reluctant to commit to a wholesale adoption of C&I.

However, in helping to write the response back to the NASF, the commitment we made in our letter, signed by Chief Dombeck, was to integrate C&I into our management and planning processes.

For me, when I looked at C&I and NASF asking us to adopt them, I knew then it was not likely that the 67 indicators were perfect. Why would we adopt them just wholesale? The commitment we made back to NASF in the mid-1990s was to adopt them in a systematic way. We are making progress, but we still have a long way to go.

I believe Joel's encouraging message of broadening and deepening C&I is about exactly the same things, and I agree. But we need to recognize you don't broaden and deepen C&I as a singular, independent effort from a system of management that the Agency needs to get on with. It should not be a separate-track thing. It must be integrated into our performance accountability system, credibility through accountability--or whatever labels we use. This has to be part and parcel of systematic management, as evidenced in our strategic plans and Planning Rule. We are making progress.

How does the future of sustainable land and forest management in the Forest Service look to you?

We have a challenge internally if we are to truly do justice to our mission. I remember seeing a bumper sticker that read, "Private lands do the public good." We know it is true. Private, well-managed forested lands protect watersheds or filter water going downstream to places like New York City, and you and I benefit from well-managed forests.

It seems to me that there's good justification to have state and private forestry programs to encourage on a voluntary, non-regulatory basis good management practices on private lands. But the question is, Are private landowners adequately compensated for the public good they provide? The value of environmental services that forests provide is getting global attention. When you are providing a good or service and are not adequately compensated, what are the long-term implications of that? Is it reasonable to expect the providers will always deliver such services without some quid pro quo? My training suggests that the answer is "no." It may be true that owners of forest lands value the natural resources and their personal interests are well aligned with the public interests. Unfortunately, we know that economic and social pressures often result in conversion of forest lands to other uses as well. Perhaps it is a question of balance, of what public policies are needed to ensure the continuation of the public goods and services provided by private forests.

So we have a tremendous opportunity to make a difference as we work in the Forest Service. I am optimistic that we will.

Return to SDe-News Spring 2005

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    Last Modified: Tuesday, April 5, 2005