As I close my office door for a final time today to forge a new path off a familiar journey, it is difficult to find words that adequately express my gratitude for this incredible opportunity to be part of the Forest Service.
When I reflect on all we have achieved together in this year alone, I realize the American public is so fortunate to be recipients of the talents and services of a group of dedicated, passionate public servants who are determined to leave the land better than when they found it. In spite of everything you must confront, you have made tremendous strides to restore our nation’s forests and grasslands, by continuing to develop and apply the science that guides our actions. Meanwhile, you work hard to ensure that 150+ million citizens enjoy safe and unforgettable outdoor experiences. And you do it through strong ties to our partners, cooperators and communities simply because it is the Forest Service way.
Once again, however, we are edging ever closer to another historic fire season, which got an early start last fall in the Southern Region. It’s continued to intensify in recent weeks in the West, with more than 21,000 people now engaged in efforts to keep the public and communities safe, as we manage and suppress record-setting fires in California and the Pacific Northwest. Please remember to pace yourselves and take care of each other as we confront the next few perilous weeks. I am ever proud of the decisions you make as you work with our cooperators to apply risk-management-based suppression actions where human safety remains paramount.
Despite our best efforts to come home safely each day, however, this marks another tough day for the Forest Service as we come to terms with the loss of Gary Helming, Battalion Chief, Los Padres National Forest. Gary lost his life in an unavoidable tragic vehicle accident as he returned from fire duty. I extend my thoughts and prayers to Gary’s wife, three children, extended family, friends and co-workers. To honor Gary’s loss, please continue to watch out for each other; do all you can to return home safely.
While I may no longer be a physical presence in the daily work-life of this agency, you, nor the work of conservation, will never be far my thoughts.
Conservation as a lifelong commitment is also the Forest Service way.
Thank you for all you do.