The U.S. Forest Service: Caring for the land and serving people

Forest Service

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service has suffered the effects of 2020, and here, Open Access Government examines how it is providing care and relief for both U.S. citizens and forests everywhere

The U.S. Forest Service is a federal agency under the U.S. Department of Agriculture that manages 193 million acres of land, (roughly the size of Texas.) Since being established in 1905, the Forest Service has managed public lands in the form of national forests and grasslands, provided technical and financial assistance to state and private forestry agencies and now also makes up the largest forestry research organisation in the world. The mission of the Forest Service is to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations, constantly battling immense challenges such as climate change. Furthermore, it helps people share and enjoy the forest while conserving the environment, striking a balance between the best interests of the public lands and the public themselves.

The Forest Service motto, “Caring for the Land and Serving People,” captures the spirit of this mission, which is accomplished through five main activities:

• The protection and management of natural resources on the lands managed.

• Researching all aspects of forestry, rangeland management, and forest resource utilisation.

• Community assistance and cooperation with both State and local governments, forest industries and private landowners to help protect and manage non-federal forest and associated range and watershed lands to sustain and improve conditions in rural areas.

• Focussing on supporting an effective workforce that reflects the diversity of the U.S.

• International assistance to formulate policy and coordinate U.S. support for the protection and correct management of the world’s forest resources.

Serving as Chief of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service is Vicki Christiansen; her role comprises of leading a workforce of more than 25,000 permanent employees who:

• Steward the 193 million acres of national forests and grasslands.

• Support the largest forestry research organisation.

• Work with states, tribes and others to sustain all forests, so they can benefit all citizens, today and in the future.

Her commitment to the core values of the Forest Service, which are conservation, service, interdependence, diversity and safety, is evident in the priorities she sets for the agency, past, present and future, and her focus on relationships inside and outside the agency is reflected in the Forest Service’s dedication to caring for the land, communities and the people that they serve.

A recent example of how the USDA Forest Service is always considering future generations is the announcement that it will expand its ‘Every Kid Outdoors’ program to offer fourth- and fifth-grade students and family members free access to more than 2,000 sites on national forests and grasslands for the remainder of the 2020-2021 school year. A new voucher is available for download from now through August 31, 2021. “The year’s events have made it harder for many students to get out to their local National Forest and to use their Every Kid Outdoors Annual 4th Grade Pass as intended,” said Chief Vicki Christiansen. “We hope the added time will encourage millions of families to use their free pass to get out to their National Forest, connect with nature, and experience the mental and physical benefits of the great outdoors.”

Resilience through 2020

As stated by the Forest Service, their employees have suffered losses, including some through the COVID-19 pandemic and some while fighting fires. “Some lost homes and all they owned; some lost offices and work centres, and — worse by far — lost neighbours, friends and family.” As an organisation that prides themselves on being caring and responsive, the Forest Service has stayed true to their word by launching Operation Care and Recovery: a corporate approach to supporting employees, Regions, administrative units and communities in desperate need of recovery from the pandemic and from natural disasters such as the 2020 fires. They are providing resources for their employees to find recovery support, assistance and care. Simultaneously, the initiative will help cope with the short- term natural resource impacts while also meeting long-term recovery needs.

Protection against wildfires

Across the U.S. are forests densely packed with trees at high risk of catastrophic wildfires as well as insect and disease outbreaks that could impact ecosystem health for generations to come – creating some of the most complex land management challenges in the world. Over the last 10 years, wildfire suppression costs have grown dramatically, which has inevitably taken over a large amount of time and funding from other areas of forest health maintenance, thus creating a snowballing problem.

In December 2020, the National Partnership Office launched the Innovative Finance for National Forests Grant Program with the goal of accelerating work to pioneer new partnership models through promoting creativity, and will “explore innovative finance solutions to leverage new sources of funding while also building relationships with partners,” according to Nathalie Woolworth, conservation finance program manager at the Forest Service. So far, the program has awarded $1.8 million to 10 grantees to create new finance models that leveraging private capital in addressing some of the biggest land management challenges.

Furthermore, the USDA Forest Service supports the Trillion Trees Initiative, which aims to provide an opportunity to accelerate the renewal or reproduction of forest benefits in areas that have lost forests to fire. This global program will restore forests ravaged by fire to be more fire-adapted and resilient to future climate conditions. Currently, the Forest Service has opportunities to increase reforestation rates on 1.3 million acres of national forests, including 700,000 acres of tree planting and 600,000 acres of activities to ensure successful natural regeneration. With the momentum of trillion trees platform, it is evident how active forest management can ensure sustainable and resilient forests will endure for future generations, fitting in seamlessly to the goals and ambitions of the Forest Service.


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