As we celebrate the holidays, it is time to reflect on the year gone by — the challenges we faced and the accomplishments we achieved. And we’ve accomplished a lot, thanks to you, our own employees! You are the heart of the Forest Service, and I feel proud, privileged and humbled to serve as your Chief.
What a year it’s been! There were national emergencies in several parts of the country and around the world, with so many people affected by earthquakes, flooding, hurricanes and wildfires. Many of you have been personally affected by these events and continue to recover.
Three category 4 hurricanes struck our homeland, and we’ve had almost unbroken wildfire activity since October 2016 across huge parts of the South and West. We were at preparedness levels 4 and 5 for 70-plus days this year, an exceptionally long period.
Yet you stepped up to help our partners with emergency response and recovery, and you worked tirelessly with our interagency cooperators to save countless lives, homes and communities from catastrophic wildfire. I am very proud of all of our employees who serve as emergency responders in support of these efforts. Our wildland firefighters and other agency employees continue to work with interagency cooperators, rising together to every occasion.
Our hearts and prayers go out to the families and friends of those who perished in wildfires and other disasters this year, including the brave wildland firefighters who paid the ultimate price.
With the rise of extreme events like wildfires, floods, drought, invasive species and insect and disease outbreaks, our nation’s forests and grasslands demand constant attention to improve their condition. At the same time, we are seeing increasing needs for benefits from forests, rangelands and natural resources. We will need to use every tool and authority we have and take every step we can to increase results and outcomes on the ground to restore healthy, resilient forests and grasslands.
Thanks to you, we are gaining momentum. In 2016–2017, we saw more results than in any two-year period in over two decades. For example, we treated well over 6 million acres to improve the health and resiliency of forests and rangelands, and we sold about 5.9 billion board feet of timber.
Our implementation of the Good Neighbor Authority has really taken root, with the signing of more than 131 agreements with 31 different states to do all kinds of things — wildlife work, monitoring, timber sales, erosion control and many other tasks. This year we demonstrated many more examples of shared stewardship for accomplishing on-the-ground work with states, tribes, NGOs, local governments, communities and other partners all across the country.
With help from Secretary Perdue and support from Congress, we are working hard to find a fix for our fire funding issues so we can devote more resources to delivering our mission. I am optimistic that we will find a solution soon.
We also held a national workshop in September to assess the way we implement NEPA, including our environmental analysis and decision making. We formed multiple teams to help us improve our processes and assist employees, partners and volunteers in accomplishing on-the-ground work.
All in all, your accomplishments this year demonstrate the Forest Service’s commitment to mitigating wildfire risks and other threats while improving the economic health of rural communities and ensuring that the nation’s forests and grasslands are sustainable, healthy and productive. As we move into 2018, our priorities will continue to tie directly to Secretary Perdue’s strategic vision for USDA.
Thanks to you, the Forest Service continues to be the premier land management agency in caring for the land and serving people.
Please have a safe and wonderful holiday season, and thank you for all you do!