The White Mountain National Forest: A Conservation Leader

Tom Tidwell, Chief
White Mountain National Forest, Dedication of New Building
Campton, NH
— October 30, 2009


Thanks! It’s great to be here. This is my first trip to the White Mountains as Chief of the Forest Service, and I’m glad to have the opportunity to meet with our employees … our local, state, and federal representatives … and our many friends and partners. This is a terrific facility, and I appreciate the opportunity to see it firsthand and to join you today for this dedication ceremony.

Sustainable Operations

This facility represents our future. It stands for our commitment to reducing our environmental footprint … to operating in a more sustainable manner … both in managing the national forests and grasslands and in working with partners across shared landscapes for the sustainable management of the nation’s forests. In short, this building sets an example—not only of who we are as an agency, but also of how we ought to be as conservationists.

Leading by example … Mark Twain once joked that, and I quote, “Few things are harder to put up with than the annoyance of a good example.” That’s because a good example raises the bar by proving that it can be done. Talk is cheap, but when we actually walk the talk, then we take away any excuse for not actually doing what needs to be done. Actions speak louder than words, and this building is eloquent testimony to action on behalf of conservation.

This building is also a tribute to partnership. It is my understanding that our employees here on the White Mountain visited many of our partners’ facilities when they began to design this building. Our partners greeted us in the spirit of cooperation and collaboration, helping us build on their own successes. They inspired us to consolidate our operations, to move from three separate facilities into one state-of-the-art, LEED-certified green facility.

That partnership should play such a prominent role in the design of this building comes as no surprise. Here in New Hampshire, stakeholders have always taken ownership in the White Mountain National Forest. The notion that these lands should be publicly managed has long had strong local support, giving birth to the landmark conservation legislation known as the Weeks Act of 1911.

Ecological Restoration through Landscape-Scale Conservation

As we approach the centennial celebration of the Weeks Act, I think it is important to recognize that its underlying values of pragmatism, cooperation, and mutual respect are just as important today as they were back then. I believe that Americans can come together, based on mutual respect, around a common goal: healthy, adaptable ecosystems—ecosystems that can provide all the services that Americans want and need while creating jobs and local economic opportunities, supporting communities of all kinds. The key is ecological restoration—restoring the ecological functions associated with healthy forest ecosystems—systems that remain resilient under drought conditions, despite assault by fire, insects, and disease—systems that remain capable of delivering the ecosystem services that Americans want and need, even in an era of climate change.

Our goal will be to understand climate change and its effects on forests down to the local level. In fact, we are already engaged in forecasting future conditions and evaluating likely climate change effects here in New Hampshire through our Northern Forest Futures Project. We need to factor such knowledge into the decisions we make to help systems adapt to new stressors so that we do not lose species. Our restoration goal is to take the actions needed so that future generations will have that same ability to respond to new challenges and opportunities that we have today.

Ecological restoration is predicated on strong partnerships. Restoring forests means bringing people together, pooling resources, and working across borders and boundaries. The mission of the Forest Service is to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the nation’s forests, not just the national forests. Working with partners, the Forest Service will take an all-lands approach, and nowhere are we better poised for landscape-scale conservation than here in New Hampshire, for example through the Quabbin-to-Cardigan Partnership.

We cannot sustain the nation’s forests by focusing just on the national forests. Fifty-seven percent of America’s forests are in private landownership, and another 23 percent are in state, tribal, county, municipal, and other federal ownerships. Forest ecosystems typically form mosaics—mosaics of plant and animal communities and mosaics of landownerships. This is true not only here in the East, but also in the West, where the critical issues are the same—healthy forests and grasslands, water, fire, wildlife habitat connectivity.

These issues have never stopped at national forest boundaries, and we cannot successfully address them on a piecemeal scale. It has to be on a scale that transcends landownership or jurisdiction. Landscape-scale conservation will bring land managers, landowners, and stakeholders together across boundaries to decide on common restoration goals for the landscapes they all share. It will bring them together to achieve long-term restoration outcomes.

Working together, we can increase our capacity for restoration. Our nation has untapped resources of knowledge, energy, and ideas that could help us meet the forestry challenges of the future. If we bring people together to collaborate across landscapes … to address shared issues and concerns … to pursue common goals based on mutual respect … then we will build on our mutual capacity and capabilities, making a whole that is far greater than the sum of the parts.

Our collective responsibility to the people we serve is to work through landscape-scale conservation to restore the nation’s forests—to ensure that Americans continue to get all the ecosystem services they need and want from their forested landscapes.

White Mountain Salute

In closing, as this building and these partnerships show, the White Mountain National Forest is truly one of the jewels of the National Forest System. It provides outstanding recreation and wilderness experiences within a day’s drive of 70 million people. It protects the headwaters of nationally important river systems that provide municipal water supplies and rich aquatic habitats. It is a recognized source of high-quality hardwood sawtimber and biomass, and it continues to be a leading learning laboratory for regional and global forest research. It is a model of sustainability … a leader in sustainable operations … and an example for us all of strong partnerships embracing collaboration, building mutual respect. I commend you for your accomplishments, and I look forward to spending more time here as we work together for the future of America’s forests.