Where Do We Go From Here?

Joint Ventures: Partners in Stewardship Conference
Los Angeles, CA
— November 20, 2003

Good morning and welcome to all of you on this third and final day of the Joint Ventures Conference. I congratulate you for being here and thank you for your personal commitment to partnerships. By now, you must be brimming with exciting ideas and some new skills, and I’m sure some new partners. You are probably full of thought about how to build on what you have learned here and how to make it work for everyone’s benefit.

After today, 1,500 of you will be going home and either individually or collectively putting these ideas into action. What incredible power there is in that! Whether it is an old idea, or a new idea, or a new twist—go for it! Work with your ideas and call on your new friends from this conference to help you work out the bugs and get past the snags we all run into. One great thing about events such as this is that you learn you are not alone. And usually someone else has figured out a way around the problem you are encountering.

I did just that when I was forest supervisor on the Deschutes National Forest in central Oregon. The community relationships were such that we had a veritable garden of great partnerships already going when we decided to take that to another level—and we sent some of our leadership team members to visit the guy who’d really shown what could be done here in California—Bryan O’Neil with the Golden Gate National Recreation Area in San Francisco. We figured why invent it ourselves when someone else may already have figured it out? And he had. We left full of ideas, and while every location offers different opportunities, Bryan’s main point was this: If you want to preserve and protect the resources we are lucky enough to be stewards of, then the people in the community have to be personally invested in that stewardship. It is that very personal, intimate connection that gets results.

One idea that took off in Colorado after this trip was our wilderness volunteer program. On the eve of our 40th anniversary of the Wilderness Act, I think this example serves as a great model for getting communities involved in their resource. Les Joslin, a professor at Central Oregon Community College, began as a wilderness ranger volunteer himself after retiring. Seeing what the public and the wilderness resource needed, he started teaching a wilderness management class at the college that morphed into a wilderness management program and source of volunteers for our 5 wilderness areas on the forest. Ultimately, his students—from teenagers to senior citizens—became our wilderness rangers; he became our lead ranger. The program was managed essentially by volunteers with quality training and unmatched commitment and devotion. As we look to a future of more people in our wilderness and greater challenges on the eve of this 40th anniversary, partnerships like this can—as this one did—restore true wilderness resources and restore the public’s belief that we care about wilderness and we care about their experience in it.

I’ve been impressed with some of the partnerships that I’ve been hearing about and would like to share a couple of those stories with you. One that comes to mind is an innovative approach to partnering and seamless service known as “Outside Las Vegas.”

Outside Las Vegas is a federal partnership between the Forest Service, National Park Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, and Bureau of Land Management. The agencies act together as one unit rather than four separate agencies.

Under this partnership, interagency teams formulate projects and proposals for funding through the Southern Nevada Public Lands Management Act. Right now, there are 14 interagency teams working on such diverse issues as an environmental education campaign, litter control, and volunteer management. While the Management Act is a huge asset to this partnership, having authorities and resources doesn’t eliminate all challenges. The agencies have learned they need to meet on a regular basis to share power, communicate with each other, and overcome or even capitalize on different organizational cultures.

A second great partnership is the Urban Tree House Project. I believe that the future success of our partnerships depends in part on how we demonstrate and teach great examples of partnership and relationship building to the next generation of conservation leaders. Urban Tree House is a powerful example that reaches out to youth in their own urban communities to connect them to the natural environment. The program provides conservation training and education and makes them aware of the career available in the world of natural resources. Federal agencies, states, teachers, private organization, and local neighborhood organizations—literally hundreds of groups—partner in Urban Tree House in Atlanta, Washington, DC, Milwaukee, and Salt Lake City. It is helping to grow the conservation leaders of tomorrow.

The concept of partnering is not new to the Forest Service. But can we be better partners? You bet.

On Tuesday, many of you met with Chief Dale Bosworth and gave us some great insights on how we can do just that. You want us to train our employees in partnering skills as much as we train them in firefighting; to actively pursue obtaining the partnership authorities that other land management agencies already have; and, most importantly, to use this conference as a springboard for a stronger commitment to work in partnership and collaboration. Chief Bosworth and I are committed to making these things happen. Thanks to all of you who shared your ideas with us.

As I look forward, I see a future where the Forest Service is actively planning for partnership investments and relationships. Between 2002 and 2003, we had a 35-percent increase in total dollars invested in grants and agreements in the Forest Service—more than three-quarters of a billion dollars. As a matter of fact, we actually believe our work in this area will soon exceed the dollars we manage in contracts. This is an important milestone for the Forest Service.

Right now, I am proud of the work that the Forest Service is doing to streamline work processes, invest in training, and utilize new and improved tools to get our jobs done. Currently we are working with the Administration on legislation, as part of our 2004 budget request, to clarify the agency’s partnership authorities and to work more efficiently and effectively with cooperators. We have eliminated the 50-percent match requirement for our cooperators in our cost-share agreements; we’ve developed a short form for partnership agreements; we’ve revised our internal Grants and Agreement Guide; and we’ve created a partnership handbook for our employees and partners to clarify ground rules and expectations. Nothing is more frustrating than a partnership that doesn’t work because of misunderstandings that could have been avoided.

I want to close by saying we cannot transform our organizations and cultures to make partnerships central to our every day work without the personal commitment of everyone in this room. On this last day of the conference, I am looking to the future—I encourage and challenge all of you to think about your personal commitment to the future of conservation partnerships. What will you do tomorrow and the next day and the next to become a better “partner in stewardship”?

One additional thought: Continue to invest in your relationships—between agencies, communities, nonprofits, private industry, and individuals. Together we can do great things.