Leadership Corner

Leader’s intent for 2018: A summary for the fire year

April 20th, 2018 at 12:30PM

Photo: Official portrait of Vicki Christiansen.
Interim Chief Vicki Christiansen, USDA Forest Service

The field season is upon us, and many of us are already putting our skills and resources to work in protecting lives, homes, communities and wildland resources from the ravages of wildfire. I too started out as a firefighter, and fire has always been a central part of my career.

As I consider this fire year, employee safety is foremost on my mind. As firefighters, we must stand together. The bonds that join us on the fireline—the ties of mutual trust and respect—are critical to keeping the entire crew safe. Accordingly, I expect every one of us to Stand Up For Each Other, fostering a work environment characterized by mutual trust, valuing differences, listening to understand and learning from each other. Every one of us deserves a workplace that is safe, healthy, productive, resilient and free from harassment of any kind, where everyone is recognized and valued for their work.

Both on and off the fireline, safety must be central to everything we do. I expect every one of us to sharply focus our efforts on the risk decisions we make. We will deploy our people under conditions where we can protect important values at risk with the least exposure necessary. At the same time, we will maintain relationships with the communities we serve. I expect every one of us to “stop, think and talk” before “acting” in any circumstance where there may be needless exposure.

As you know, we manage many landscapes that evolved with fire. Our first priority is to protect the people and communities we serve from wildfire. However, we often have windows of opportunity, in accordance with our Federal Wildland Fire Management Policy, to reinstate “the role of fire as an essential ecological process and natural change agent” by using both planned and unplanned ignitions “to restore or maintain the natural fire regime where safe and possible.” I expect us to use our decision support process in evaluating the potential for using fire under conditions where it can be done safely and effectively.

Whether using or suppressing fire, we remain committed to the goals of the National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy. We will continue to create resilient natural landscapes, help build fire-adapted communities, and respond safely and effectively to wildfire based on risk analysis for all ownerships. We will extinguish fire where we must, use fire where we can and — as a nation — learn to live with wildland fire.

By passing the omnibus bill of 2018, Congress has given us more of the means we need to succeed as wildland fire managers. A fire funding fix will take effect in fiscal year 2020, ending the disruptive transfer of funds from nonfire programs to cover firefighting costs while also stopping the erosion of our nonfire programs due to soaring suppression budgets. Passage of the omnibus bill is a measure of the trust that Congress and the administration have placed in the Forest Service. I expect each of us to earn that trust by continuing to protect lives and property while also restoring balance to our program delivery on behalf of the people we serve, in part by finding more efficient and effective ways to get our work done.

I am proud of our employees and the work we do in meeting the wildland fire challenges we face. As each of you uses or suppresses fire, I expect you to engage with our partners and our communities early and often to ensure that we are effectively managing risk and working together to achieve common goals. I am confident that the strong, courageous and forward-thinking people in this agency, along with our partners, will come together to make a difference in our culture. I want every employee to be able to contribute continuously to improving our work. My sincere thanks to each and every one of you for the great work you do.