Partnerships in land stewardship reflect a growing and important trend: the joining of passion and resources by committed citizens, organizations, and government agencies to achieve social, economic, and ecological goals. The Forest Service has worked with partners throughout its 100-year history. But the problems of land management have grown more complex, and the needs of the public more varied. The American people today are voicing their strong desire to volunteer and participate in the stewardship of natural resources and in the decisions that affect their communities.

The Forest Service is responding by empowering employees and partners to create and sustain successful partnerships. Internally, the Forest Service is aligning its structure and policies to help partnerships run more smoothly.

The Meaning of Partnership

The words "partnership" and "partners" are used in a broad way to describe relationships between the people, organizations, agencies, and communities that work together and share interests. The Forest Service regularly works in partnership with other entities, including tribes, states, federal agencies, nonprofits, businesses, and communities.

However, it is important to understand that the word "partnership" also has a more precise meaning according to federal policy. Federal policy defines partnerships as "arrangements that are voluntary, mutually beneficial, and entered into for the purpose of mutually agreed upon objectives." In this definition, "mutual benefit" specifically means that each partner shares in the benefits the project provides.

The terminology can be confusing because the Forest Service commonly uses the word "partnership" more loosely to refer to work with others where the benefits are not shared. For example, when the Forest Service gives grants to communities for revitalizing urban forests, the primary benefit is to the community. The agency also uses contracts to purchase goods or services that directly benefit the Forest Service. These types of formal arrangements are partnerships in the sense that they help each party achieve their goals and build skills, knowledge, and relationships that provide the foundation for future work together.

The Forest Service also frequently works with partners through informal activities that may serve as springboards for formal arrangements later. For example, many agency employees participate in community networks to offer educational events and share skills and expertise with local landowners and citizens without a formal, documented arrangement. In practice, this broadens the meaning of partnership beyond the specific definition under federal policy and beyond formal arrangements.