Leadership Corner

Reflections from the Rocky Mountain Region Chief’s review

May 1st, 2019 at 1:27PM
Portrait photo pf Brian Ferebee; US flag and USDA Forest Service flag in the background
Regional Forester Brian Ferebee, Rocky Mountain Region, USDA Forest Service

From the peaks to the prairies of the Rocky Mountain Region, there is meaningful work taking place across the landscape and in communities. Our employees, along with private, public and government partners, and volunteers are fundamental to the work we can accomplish in stewarding the region’s 25 million acres of forests and grasslands. At the recent Chief’s Review, we had the pleasure of hosting the Executive Leadership Team, Station Director of Rocky Mountain Research Station, Acting National Director of Job Corps, Colorado State Forester, Wyoming State Forester and numerous other partners for a week of discovery and exploratory conversation regarding the priorities of the region.

Employees throughout the region are focused on three priorities that align with our Chief’s national priorities and the Secretary of Agriculture’s seven strategic goals: improving our work environment, creating and maintaining resilient landscapes, and connecting with communities.

The purpose of a Chief’s Review is twofold: to provide a strategic overview of the agency’s mission delivery in the region while reflecting on the mission delivery of the agency as a whole and to promote interaction between employees, partners and the Chief’s Review Team. Grounded in our agency’s values and our Leaders’ Stance and Habits, we discussed where we have been, where we are and where we are headed based on current and future public land management challenges and opportunities. The dialogue was rich, thought-provoking and designed to strategically identify and respond collectively to future patterns and trends.

I found the dialogue to be valuable, challenging and inspiring. Having the opportunity to share space and time with the Chief’s Review Team, Regional Leadership Team and members of our District Ranger Council provided a unique opportunity to listen and learn.

During the first two days, everything was discussed through the lens of “Shared Stewardship.” We quickly learned that there is not a shared understanding and definition of shared stewardship. Some employees and partners are using it as a buzzword, while others are linking the new shared stewardship strategy with collaboration or, even still, approaching the work ahead from the “business as usual” perspective. The challenges and opportunities before us require a new approach. Therefore, defining shared stewardship at the highest level, and reiterating it throughout the agency, is key. Leaning into shared stewardship at a landscape scale and unifying as an agency is critical.

The Chief reminded us that there is no hard and fast guide to this work. We are encouraged to be innovative, take risks and get comfortable with being uncomfortable. As we embark on this journey, we must consider the partners that we currently work with and the communities we serve. Scaling up our work—or maximizing our ability to accomplish work on the ground—requires us to develop a relationship with new partners without leaving existing partners behind. As a region and an organization, we must expand and grow the circle of conservation and prioritize our work at a landscape level.

We heard that prioritizing our work around shared stewardship is exciting, yet it leaves some of our employees and partners wondering where they fit in. We discussed tradeoffs at length. What do we need to give up in order to focus? A key takeaway was the critical importance of transparent conversations with our partners and communities as we work through the challenges ahead. I firmly believe that actively undertaking shared stewardship in our priority work is inclusive work.

As we discuss the priorities of vegetation management and fuels, we must examine the outcomes to water, recreation and other benefits. In this, our partners who work with us around the whole of the mission of the agency can find their place in shared stewardship. Recreation and water define this region—80 percent of those who connect with the forests and grasslands do so through recreation. Recreation in this region is a monumental economic driver, with a broad range of world-renowned recreation opportunities that contribute $887 billion in consumer spending and create 22,000 private industry jobs. This recreation economy relies on healthy, resilient forests and grasslands.

Similarly, the Rocky Mountains are the water towers of the West, providing clean and abundant water to 19 downstream states and Mexico. These rivers are the lifeblood of our forests, grasslands and communities, and a critical component of healthy and resilient forests. Our partners in both recreation and water remind us that telling our stories about the successful work we do together will inspire success and continue to make Forest Service efforts relevant to the people we serve. 

Transparent conversations about priorities, risk-taking and innovative approaches responding to issues, challenges and opportunities make a difference to all citizens. The relationships we develop with the communities we live and work in make the collective work of the agency possible. Intentionally connecting with communities takes time, commitment and authenticity.

In a recent video we produced, we tell a story about connecting with communities in the Rocky Mountain Region. Connecting with communities reveals our interdependence and requires our ongoing care and attention. At the heart of community is people—community, partners and employees—our most valuable asset.

As a learning organization, we recognize the importance of the work environment and how it impacts our effectiveness. We understand we have a way to go to reach our goals, and sometimes there will be challenges. Yet we must remain resilient and committed to improving our organization through a strategic examination of what is working and what is not, so we can grow and develop to serve the greater good.

In her closing remarks, Chief Christiansen acknowledged that we, as a region, are holding a lot of tensions. Issues such as building relationships with communities while also trying to scale up our work, examining trade-offs that come from the prioritization of work, and planning and prioritizing at multiple scales. However, the region is rising to the occasion. “This region is leaning in and leading forward in the call to action of ‘we can’t just do business as usual.’ The challenges and opportunities have evolved, so we need to evolve,” said Chief Christiansen. 

I continue to be impressed by the people of the Rocky Mountain Region. The work we do is evident in the differences we have made on the landscape. Our accomplishments reflect highly on the Forest Service mission, and we have set a high standard for efficiency, resiliency and resourcefulness. It demonstrates that we are all in this together, and only together can we achieve great things.