Washington DC has dominated headlines over the last year. Some of it including Federal Land, but not much to do with the Forest Service. Forest fires being the possible exception. It doesn’t mean things haven’t been going on behind the scenes. With new leadership at the top, there seems to be some renewed optimism of accelerated management of our federal forests. A policy review is a logical first step.
New Forest Service Chief, Tony Tooke, has been making good strides to empower his workforce to execute at a higher level within the laws that currently exist. We have seen an expanded use of retained receipts for planning and other actions that were discouraged in the past. Conversations with forest level leadership have demonstrated an improved outlook of support from the highest levels. Internal, public memos have shown encouragement and a desire to do more within the current laws.
This comes as great news to someone like myself that has been working closely with Forest Service collaboration. Collaborative groups throughout the West have enjoyed varying levels of support from Regional and National Leadership. One thing that’s been a challenge is to discern the differences between what is policy and what is law within the agency. Why is this important? It’s the difference between what is possible and what isn’t.
Policy or Law
If we have leadership that actively reviews and alters policy to make management decisions more efficient, thus more effective, we can start to see real changes. In many cases, this can be done quickly. Further, if leadership from the top starts to embrace the collaborative successes and build upon them we may be less reliant on Congress to pass effective reforms to achieve the pace and scale of needed forest restoration. Executing on this is long overdue.
The other major benefit of altering policy necessary to make Forest Service management more effective is that we can focus on the real roadblocks rather than perceived. This will provide needed clarity. It is my belief that the US Forest Service can affect management immediately by spending time focusing on the areas recognized of need. Doing this will allow us to get considerably more volume flowing to the mills without compromising the value of collaborative agreements. We might find that we can achieve the kind of results that people are demanding of legislation by simply making policy adjustments that create more action.
Improved Ecology Improves Economy
Our forests can provide us with the opportunity for ecological and economic vitality. They have before, and they will again. The difference today is that we have better management practices and a shared understanding of interests. We should start the process of unlocking opportunity by taking steps in a constant and diligent direction. Chief Tooke has shown that he understands that much of this opportunity lies right in front of him and his team. Making these changes in policy and supporting the implementation of such changes deserves broad-based support.
We must also be mindful of the problems we faced in the past. We all know that the overreaction of the environmental movement brought a large portion of the Forest Industry in the US to its knees. Many great family businesses were lost. So many communities were devastated. If we don’t learn from that, we are doomed to repeat it. We need to take the lead from our effective collaboration and design a long-term forest management plan. A plan that balances the many interests of the stakeholders on our public lands. If we do it correctly, everyone will benefit.