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Our evolving conservation story — September Leadership Forum

September 28, 2018 at 10:30am

Photo: Portrait of Vicki Christiansen in front of American & Forest Service flags.

Interim Chief Vicki Christiansen, USDA Forest Service

Last week I participated in the September 2018 Leadership Forum. I want to take a few moments to share with you some of the highlights. For those of you who may not know, the Leadership Forum was established to create deeper understanding and agreement on critical issues facing the agency as well as to help generate shared responsibility for delivering new results.

As I continue to visit our units and talk with employees, I am inspired by your innovation, passion and commitment. I have said it before and I will say it again: We are a learning organization. In sharing highlights from the September Leadership Forum, I hope you will feel inspired to share your success stories so we can learn from you too.

Perhaps more than at any time in the last decade, we’re in a time of change. We recently shared that we created a new office of work environment and performance. During the forum, Leslie Weldon, who will serve as the senior executive to lead that office, shared this quote from Aldo Leopold: “There are two things that interest me: the relation of people to each other, and the relation of people to land.” In doing so, she reminded everyone that both parts of that statement are equally important.

Leslie took some time to talk a little bit about how the office of work environment and performance is going to help us realize our goals to create the work environment we all deserve. Although the new office will help us focus our efforts, it will take every one of us working together to achieve success. We will harness each other’s knowledge and perspectives, work with each other, learn from each other, name our desired outcomes, set goals to achieve them and evaluate how we are doing.

As the forum moved into the component of learning from each other, we focused on success in delivering results on one of our core agency values: conservation. Last week’s Leadership Forum was also about personal reflection and strengthening our commitment to our employees and to our place in the story of conservation. Participants heard conservation stories from across the agency — from National Forest System to Research and Development — about ways in which we have improved outcomes by working across boundaries.

It struck me throughout the presentations that our conservation value shone through, but so did the Forest Service values of service and interdependence. In each story, our strong service ethic and our dependence on each other and on the communities where we live and work led to great conversations.

I have heard from many of you who point out that we are very focused on active management, particularly increasing outputs of timber. And yes, we are working very hard in this area and there are high expectations for us to increase this part of our work. But I am sure you will see from the examples below that we are making progress on all of our national priorities, not just active management.

Some of the stories shared included Jeff Marsolais and Kim Felton from Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit discussing how they improved the efficiency of NEPA review regarding special use permits. The changes they made had a huge impact on improving access and recreation opportunities by reducing the amount of time it took to process special use applications. And, in the spirit of peer-to-peer learning, their colleagues heaped both kudos and questions on Jeff and Kim in the chat pod. It was energizing to see our employees supporting each other and engaged in learning from the successes of their colleagues.

Michael Schwartz, director of the National Genomics Center for Wildlife and Fish Conservation, and Christine Dawe, Northern Region, talked about the intersections between land managers and researchers. They demonstrated how the synergy between innovative researchers and land managers is creating clever ways for improvement. They shared their success in using specialized equipment and tools to help in the detection and classification of rare species.

Cotton Randall, Cooperative Forest Management Administrator, and Tony Scardina, Eastern Region, shared with the group how landscape-scale conservation is a framework for conceiving, planning, financing and managing projects of ecological, economic and social value. In Ohio, shared stewardship has been pivotal to their conservation efforts. Ohio presented a perfect opportunity because only 10 percent of the lands there are managed by the state and federal governments. Cotton and Tony showed how investigating scenario investment and prioritizing our decision-making process with our state partners allow us to better maximize our outcomes while greatly offsetting our risks.

Barnie Gyant, Deputy Regional Forester in the Pacific Southwest Region, spoke about shared stewardship in the Region. The Region is working with Sierra Pacific Industries, CalFire and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation on a memorandum of understanding to develop a landscape strategy to protect communities and prioritize fuel breaks to lessen the impact of fire on the California spotted owl.

Conservation depends on each of us doing our part. Leaders at all levels must continually learn, discover and innovate ways to fulfill our mission, both now and into the future. We want you to lead from where you are and learn from your peers. We all recognize that we are working together toward the same goal. Are you curious enough to be creative in how you work with each other?

Please take some time to remember what inspires you. Consider your contribution toward delivering the conservation mission of this agency. I hope this reenergizes you and makes you a more effective steward of the land.

We ask all of you to be open to listening to, and learning from, each other and our partners. Whether you’re a recreation specialist, a research scientist or an administrative professional, everyone contributes to the conservation mission. We want to hear what you have to say. Visit the Leadership Corner Forum and share your conservation story.

For more on the story of conservation and our place in it, revisit Chief Christiansen’s Leadership Corner on the Story of Conservation.

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