Leadership Corner

Let’s talk … partnerships

December 2nd, 2019 at 3:01PM
Portrait phot: Chris French
Chris French, National Forest System Deputy Chief

As we enter our 2020 fiscal year, we must continue to ground our work in our agency values. With these core values as a foundation for our work, we will continue to pursue our five national priorities in alignment with USDA and Forest Service strategic goals and objectives. A robust partnership program is key to meeting those goals and exemplifies our value of interdependence. We benefit greatly from partnering with the private sector and nonprofits, allowing the agency to better meet capacity shortfalls and develop relationships with key stakeholders.

Associate Chief Lenise Lago summed up how important partners are to our work, “We get $500 million dollars a year to do work … FROM PARTNERS. That’s half a billion dollars!  And the only limit is us – our availability, our capacity, our receptivity. 

“When you think of all the work that is needed from us – whether it’s the $5.2 billion backlog of deferred maintenance, or the 80 million acres at high risk due to drought, insects, or wildfire, or even development potential on National Forest System lands to meet community needs – there is no way we can get all that done with funds from the treasury. And increasingly, private investors are looking for ways to invest their money, get a return, AND do something beneficial for the environment, their community, or society in general.  We provide that opportunity and we need to expand our capacity to meet that kind of demand.”

I kept this in mind when Lenise and I participated in the recent National Grants and Agreements and Partnership Summit in Portland, Oregon. We shared our vision on the partnership program and fielded questions, but, most importantly, we gave thanks to our dedicated team of G&A and partnership professionals for the work they do to advance the mission of the Forest Service.

The back and forth exchanges during the conference helped me better understand not only the critical nature of such conversations but also that program managers must engage our grants and partnership professionals early and often throughout the agreement process. I encourage agency line officers to reserve time on their calendar over the next few months to facilitate a conversation with your G&A specialist and partnership coordinator staff. Potential discussion topics could cover:

  • Sharing your vision for partnership program on your unit for the next one to five years
  • Seeking to better understand G&A and partnership professionals’ role and how they can help you meet your partnership objectives
  • Reviewing your inventory of existing partnerships (to be provided by G&A specialist upon request).
  • Brainstorming a list of potential new partnership opportunities
  • Discussing strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats to your existing partnership program
  • Seeking to better understand how the G&A process works

As you enter into these conversations, I am sure you will discover, just as I did, that partnership opportunities are endless, and that this is important and exciting work. Let’s take advantage of this opportunity, and “Let’s Talk…Partnerships” as we enter a new year in the Forest Service and caring for these precious public lands.

On a more personal note, I received my first exposure to the Forest Service as a 19-year-old student working under a partnership agreement with the Student Conservation Association. I am now, and forever will be, grateful for the opportunities our partnerships provide.

If you’re interested in building your skills in partnerships and G&A, an excellent resource is our recently completed training catalogue. In addition, if you’re looking for general information that will assist in your partnership efforts, please visit the websites below.