Seasons of Change

Gail Kimbell, Regional Forester, Northern Region
Length of Service Awards Ceremony
Washington, DC
— May 19, 2009

Good morning! Welcome to the 2009 Washington Office Length of Service Ceremony. Before I say anything more, I would like to thank those we are here today to honor. On behalf of our entire agency, thank you for your years of caring for the land and serving people!

Each year, I look forward to this opportunity to recognize our most important asset: our people. We are here to honor your service—service to the American people, service to one another, service to the cause of conservation. Service is half of our name.

Service is that intangible quality we see in Forest Service employees—the quality that makes them stay with us for 5 years, for 40 years—being part of something much bigger than oneself, or contributing to a mission.

Our theme today is “Metamorphosis: celebrating seasons of change.” That is certainly fitting, because change is all around us. No one knows that better than Ms. Charlotte Ann Phillips, who is here with us today—and who has been with the Forest Service for 40 years.

I remember what it was like in 1969. It was the year of Woodstock—the year of the first moon landing—of NEPA. The Vietnam War was raging, with sit-ins, marches, race riots, and Bob Dylan. It was a time of ferment, a time of change, not least for the Forest Service. Ms. Phillips joined the agency when we were grappling with the endless demand for wood in a burgeoning economy. We were struggling to adapt to social change—to bring women and minorities into the organization and to help the whole organization adjust to the opportunities that come with richer diversity.

More of us can also remember the 1970s and all the anxiety over bellbottoms, sideburns, Pink Floyd, and the implementation of new environmental laws. Those laws changed forever the way we do business. They gave unprecedented access to citizens who wanted to participate in our decision making. We worked so hard with ideologies that were diametrically opposed to come to some agreement so we could get work done on the ground. We expanded our workforce to include more disciplines and new skills, more diversity, and we got the job done, again thanks in part to that spirit of service.


Then came the 1980s, with yet more change. American timber production peaked and then plummeted. Public land management faced all sorts of public controversy, appeals, and litigation. Again, we had to adjust. We started focusing on entire landscapes and turned our focus from outputs to outcomes. The people of the Forest Service came through again, and we made the transition through another season of change.

The 1990s were full of process. Processes were created to examine detail we couldn’t even imagine. We tried. We tried to measure everything and to prove or disprove hypotheses. We had lots of initiatives and we learned to work more openly and with partners.

Now we’re in a new century, with its own particular challenges: climate change and its effects on landscapes; growing populations putting pressure on wildlands everywhere; kids losing their connection to the natural world; budgets stretched so tight we worry they’ll break; the greatest economic downturn in 70 years.

These are challenges as great as any we have faced in our hundred-plus years of history. But our spirit of service has gotten us through so much metamorphosis before, and I am confident it will continue to do so.

  • Already, we are rising to the challenge of climate change through our cutting-edge research and through management initiatives like our Strategic Framework for Responding to Climate Change.
  • We are playing a critical role in economic recovery, investing in healthy landscapes, in healthy communities, in the future of young people across America.
  • We are focusing on renewable energy and biofuels, on reducing our own ecological footprint as an organization.
  • We are modernizing our workforce and workplace while reconnecting children to their outdoor heritage.

I hold great hope for our future. How could I not? Forests are critical to so many issues facing America, and the Forest Service has proven itself so many times before. Formidable challenges? Yes. But we are formidable. Tough issues? No doubt. But we’re tougher. 

I am depending on the spirit of service that has prevailed so many times before to help us now—to work through another season of change and to build a better future—a future of healthy, resilient forests and all the services they provide to people.

To quote Theodore Roosevelt: “Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.”

Today, we make those 5-year increments of work worth doing. I congratulate our honorees today. Thank you for your spirit of service. Wear your pins with pride, knowing that your service contributes to a better U.S. Forest Service and a better United States of America.