Leadership Corner

The story of conservation and our place in it, setting the stage

April 26th, 2018 at 5:30PM

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

Thank you for the attention all of you are giving to the listening sessions about our work environment. I’m very much looking forward to hearing what themes will emerge. I am writing today to ask for your help in answering a question that is also very important to defining who we are. The question is about a story we are writing, and I am confident you have everything you need to answer it just because of who you are, where you work and what you’ve been doing. I’ll ask my question at the end of this letter and give you a link to submit your answer.   But first, let me set the stage…

Listening with Intention

For more than 100 years, the USDA Forest Service has been steadfast in our mission to sustain the health, diversity and productivity of the nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations. In many respects, we have done right by this mission and can be proud of our results. Recent successes with a new hiring authority, appropriations bill and fire funding fix all point to the trust that the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Congress and the American people have placed in us as a beacon of conservation.

Listening for how people, communities and their diverse interests want to engage—with conservation, with each other and with their Forest Service—has been key to our successes. It is the only way we come to understand how to deliver the outcomes people want and expect from their forests and grasslands. It is also how we strategically answer the call to share stewardship, be good neighbors and improve customer service.

With this in mind, we’ve done some work to listen intentionally and broadly across our nation for what employees and the public most need and value and how they want to be in relationship with their Forest Service. Important themes have emerged, which are summarized in a three-minute video I invite you to view below.

Why We Work

From the meetings described in the video, we’ve resurfaced the set of core values that anchor the USDA Forest Service and connect us to the many publics we serve. These values of service, conservation, interdependence, diversity and safety draw people to the Forest Service, help us build relationships with people and communities, and provide a compass for navigating challenges and making decisions. While some of these values are fully ingrained in our agency culture, others need continued focus and intention to be fully lived; this is the journey we are committed to taking together.

How We Work

One of my favorite sayings is that “people don’t care what you know until they know that you care.” The video speaks to what we hear from people about how they want us to show up: trustworthy, respectful, responsive, caring, inclusive and curious. There are many of you in every part of the agency who embody these characteristics; I believe this is why people are asking for more! People are wanting—expecting—these qualities from us consistently, across our dispersed workforce. By helping each other bring these qualities forward in everything we do, they will become intrinsic to the way we do business.

Story of Conservation

Knowing how we work—and why—helps us tell the story of conservation and our place in it. When this story is told well, it reminds people (including us!) about why people asked for the Forest Service to be created over 100 years ago.

What is that story? What is today’s reason people want a USDA Forest Service? We have a draft of that story and want your input: What suggestions do you have to make this story even stronger?

Here is a link to the draft story with a form to provide your answer to my question. I need your feedback by the end of your day Tuesday, May 1, so we can move forward in sharing the same story together as one USDA Forest Service.

With appreciation for your voice and perspective,

Vicki Christiansen

Interim Chief

USDA Forest Service