DECEMBER 21, 2018 AT 9:30 AM EST - In the past fiscal year, the USDA Forest Service responded to natural disasters and battled through one of the most destructive fire seasons on record. Throughout these challenges, the Forest Service also actively treated forests to improve conditions, increase timber production, and enhance rural prosperity—all while putting customer service first.
“With the commitment and strength of our employees and partners the Forest Service continued to improve conditions across the forested landscapes this last year,” said USDA Forest Service Chief Vicki Christiansen. “This included active management, and increasing services and production to create jobs and support economies for rural America. We also focused on being good neighbors in communities and states, and consistently offering exceptional service and experiences for all uses of public lands. At the same time, we moved forward in in our commitment to transforming the culture to create a workplace that helps all employees do their part to deliver our mission to the American people.”
In the past year, the Forest Service treated more than 3.5 million acres reducing hazardous fuels and improving forest health through prescribed fire and timber sales; the latter totaling 3.2 billion board feet. The Forest Service treated an additional 2.5 million acres improving watershed conditions, ecosystems, and infrastructure, as well as providing clean water for millions of Americans.
The agency increased use of 2014 Farm Bill authorities, including 166 Good Neighbor agreements and stewardship contracts. Together, these efforts strengthened collaborative work with states and partners, improved forest conditions, protected communities, and supported as many as 370,000 jobs.
The Forest Service prioritized working with customers, partners, and communities to achieve shared goals. In August, Secretary Perdue publicly unveiled the USDA Forest Service report on Shared Stewardship—a new approach to active forest management. This approach will help reshape the agency’s work as good neighbors and will build stronger relationships with states, partners, tribes, and communities to improve forest conditions. The Western Governors Association embraced USDA’s commitment and signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Secretary Perdue. The MOU commits the USFS and WGA to a more integrated approach to prioritizing investments where they will have the greatest impact and will work together to set priorities that address risk across broad landscapes.
Another component of shared stewardship is developing the next generation of land stewards to manage and protect national forests. Over the past several years, the Forest Service worked on outreach and education for young people through programs such as Every Kid in a Park. This program leveraged nearly $7 million in private and nonprofit contributions to get fourth-graders into the great outdoors this year.
Fire Funding Fix
Last March, Congress passed historic legislation that significantly reduces the need to transfer funds from much needed management work to pay for firefighting costs, which exceeded $2 billion this year. This new law expanded authorities that the Forest Service can use to improve forest conditions and reduce wildfire risk. When the new funding fix takes effect in Fiscal Year 2020, the Forest Service budget will become more stable, freeing up funds to help accomplish critical on-the-ground work to increase forest health and resilience, as well as protect lives, communities and resources.
Improving Customer Service
The Forest Service took definitive steps to improve customer experience by modernizing our systems and employing new technology. The special use permit process was expedited, reducing the permit backlog by half. The Forest Service removed unnecessary barriers to minerals development and energy production, helping to promote energy independence, create jobs, and support rural economies. Access was also expanded through investments in infrastructure, facilities, and rural broadband.
As well, the agency made improvements to recreation opportunities, including protecting and improving access for hunting, fishing, hiking, motorized recreation, and more. The Forest Service developed fee offset projects to promote campground concessionaire facility improvements and worked with six other agencies to develop a one-stop reservation and trip-planning website to be launched in 2019.
Transforming the Culture
The Forest Service moved to permanently transform its work environment to ensure everyone is respected and included by implementing a new Code of Conduct that includes zero-tolerance for harassment, retaliation, and misconduct. Agency leadership also created a new performance requirement on work environment that has raised accountability for all supervisors, and established a new anti-harassment call center.
“We started by implementing a 30-day “Standing Up for Each Other” action strategy that requires every employee to be held accountable to the new code of conduct,” said Christiansen. “We are changing policies to further prevent harassment and retaliation, and we’re building skills within the workforce so employees prevent, recognize and intervene in inappropriate conduct and retaliation.”
The Forest Service revised policies and streamlined processes to create efficiencies in environmental analysis, forest products delivery, energy development, and wildland fire management. Improvements in environmental analysis and decision making cut costs by $30 million, and reduced analysis time by 10 percent. The Forest Service worked with sister agencies to update policies and processes for more efficient application and implementation of mineral extraction and energy production projects. The agency also reformed wildland fire systems to better allocate resources based on risk and lower costs while continuing to protect lives, property, and resources
For more information about the U.S. Forest Service visit http://www.fs.fed.us/.