Leadership Corner

Shared stewardship is the way forward for improving forest conditions

August 17th, 2018 at 1:45PM

Photo: Portrait of Vicki Christiansen in front of American & Forest Service flags.
Interim Chief Vicki Christiansen, USDA Forest Service

Earlier this week I joined Secretary Sonny Perdue as he visited California to meet with citizens and see firsthand forested communities ravaged by recent wildfires. It was a fitting prologue to the Secretary’s announcement yesterday of a new strategy that aims to improve the condition of America’s forests—across all boundaries.

Expansive work is needed to reduce fuels and threats from insects and diseases on all forests. Poor conditions demand treatments at a scale that match the immensity of the problem.  But we can’t do it alone. We need to set priorities at a state-level scale. Secretary Perdue’s announcement of a new strategy for “true shared stewardship” calls for stronger collaborative decision-making with states and partners, and it employs new technology we can share. Together they will help us to invest in high-priority lands that actually can make a difference in conditions across the entire landscape. It will take us beyond the successful, local preventive treatments that don’t measure up to the scale needed for lasting impacts. My visits this week to communities in the Northwest gave sharp focus to the need for a strategy that lines up with the realities we see on the ground. "Toward Shared Stewardship Across Landscapes: An Outcome-Based Investment Strategy" sets us on a course to do just that.

Shared stewardship simply means we share decision space with states, partners and tribes. Together we choose the right tools, the right places and the appropriate scale to invest our resources. We jointly set priorities that incorporate each other’s knowledge, skills and personnel.

Recently, I toured the Colville National Forest in Washington, where I saw work that embodied this strategy: the extraordinary and innovative cross-boundary active management our hard-working employees are doing with partners.

This week I headed to Redding, California, to join Secretary Perdue and Interior Secretary Zinke in touring the areas affected by the Carr Fire. This fire ignited July 23 and has burned 218,598 acres, including nearly 1,600 homes. More than 4,000 people have deployed to fight this fire as it continues to burn Shasta Trinity National Forest. The secretaries toured the wildland urban interface in Whiskeytown and learned about fire dangers resulting from the ongoing drought and over-vegetation. They also had the opportunity to meet with our employees and other firefighters serving on the front lines of the fires, as well as with members of the community who have suffered damage from lost homes and businesses.

The Carr Fire visit, along with the other fires and roundtable events in California, were a clear demonstration of the reason we need to join together, all hands across all lands, to address the situation we all face. Every day, we see news accounts that bear witness to what our scientists and land manages are telling us: We are experiencing a forest health crisis in this country. While we’ve stepped up our efforts through more treatments and regulatory reform efforts like the environmental analysis and decision-making, it’s not enough.

Our agency must share its latest technical capabilities, including new advances in remote sensing, information science, fire simulation tools and mapping technologies. These tools will allow us to work with other forest landowners and partners to evaluate risks to communities, infrastructure, watersheds and wildlife. We will be able to prioritize projects and customize our approach to the needs of each landscape and community.

With all of this said, you might still be wondering what is really different about the shared stewardship strategy. That’s a fair question. Let me share why I think it IS different:

We are doing the right work, but it needs to take place at the right scale so we deliver the results we want. To do that, we are going to work at the state level with all land managers. We are going to pool resources and decision-making and focus our investments to get big pay-offs in the way of reduced fire risk and more resilient forest conditions.

We will increase our success in reducing fire risk and creating more resilient forests using the following approaches:

  1. Shared decision-making to set priorities
  2. Working on a larger scale across boundaries
  3. Updated performance metrics—outcomes over outputs
  4. New legislative authorities
  5. More efficient NEPA process
  6. Fighting fire with fire

I encourage you to read the report and share your reactions in our Leadership Corner forum.

I’ll close with a heartfelt thank you to all our employees. Whether you are on the fire line, supporting our firefighting operations, or sitting at your home unit continuing to lean forward into the work at hand, I value you and the work you do every day. I look forward to working with you all as we move ahead with the shared stewardship strategy.


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