Leadership Corner

Dialogue on Shared Stewardship

October 26th, 2018 at 10:30AM

Jim Hubbard, Under Secretary of Agriculture for Natural Resources and Environment.

I had the chance recently to discuss our shared stewardship initiative with the National Leadership Council. I also took the opportunity to meet with the Regional Foresters here in Washington, DC. Secretary Sonny Perdue takes a keen interest in our work at the USDA Forest Service, and he sat in on the meeting. I thought I’d share some of the dialogue we had in both meetings.

Secretary Perdue expressed his respect for the work we do, and we talked about the importance of leadership in getting our work done. The Secretary noted that the Regional Foresters and our other leaders set the standard and tone. He is looking to us to function as one team at USDA and with our partners and neighbors across the landscapes we all share. He sees himself as a part of that team.

The resources we manage are integral parts of the communities we serve, communities who make these landscapes their home and often have few other sources of jobs and income. The Secretary sees opportunities to better integrate the Forest Service into these communities by establishing stronger community connections with stakeholders and partners. In particular, we need to invite all stakeholders to the table.

The assets we manage are critically important to the people we serve. When we properly manage them, all Americans are better off because of the benefits they get from well-managed lands. He talked about how sustainable land management reduces risk to communities as well as recreation, wildlife and water.

From the Secretary’s perspective, we need to keep the focus on active management to achieve the outcomes we want across landscapes, including reduced risk from wildfire to homes and communities. Active management means using every tool and authority we have.

The expectation of the Forest Service is to step up the pace of finding new ways of doing business and be focused on active management.

The Secretary’s vision is to close the gap among the various levels of government (county, state and federal) so we can all get more work done together across the landscapes we share. He fully supports engaging the states in shared stewardship for an outcome-based investment strategy. Secretary Perdue is ready and able to help with our state partners in any way we ask. For example, he’s asked for a list of governors to call. I, myself, have recently talked with the governor of Montana and with State Foresters.

The key will be working with the states and other partners to set priorities and make decisions for treatments that work for all stakeholders. We will need to negotiate with our partners and come to an agreement, which might look very different from place to place.

If we choose two or three states to begin with or maybe a state or two in each region and come to some agreements, we will meet expectations.

Several states, including, Idaho, Montana and Washington, are interested in the initiative.

But we need a national approach, so our goal has to include states in each region.

So even while we’re still working out the shared stewardship initiative, we’re already going to need to show results. We’re going to fly this plane even while we’re tinkering with the engine. We’ve already been using scenario-based investment planning in some places to begin comparing priorities. The Secretary does not want us to take a whole year for dialogue and planning before launching because some places are ready for this.

The bottom line is this: we need to talk to states and strike a bargain on objectives at a scale that makes a difference. I’ll continue to learn to do my job, so I can support the Forest Service in this initiative. I am confident that we can succeed if we come to some agreements with our state partners and then invest together in the next several years.