United States Forest Service Chief Thomas Tidwell visited the Allegheny National Forest Headquarters in Warren on Friday before speaking at a dinner held by the Allegheny Hardwoods Utilization Group in Kersey.
While in town, Tidwell took time to answer questions and outline his vision for the future of the National Forest System.
After 33 years in the Forest Service, including the last four as chief; according to Tidwell, it all comes down to balance.
USFS?Chief Tom Tidwell
"The challenge we have is to meet all of the needs of this current generation," Tidwell said. "But, at the same time, make sure that we're managing these lands in a sustainable way so that the future generations get the same mix of benefits that we're seeing today. So it takes all of us working together."
Whether discussing recreation, preservation or the development of forest resources, partnership remained a constant throughout discussion with Tidwell.
"We've always valued partnerships," Tidwell said. "A way to work with private organizations, public and private funding, in a variety of different ways is going to be able to help us move forward. We recognize the challenges today to provide the services the public needs or wants. We've got to be able to find new ways to work. The key is that we do it in a way that is supported by the communities.
"Our mission stayed pretty constant throughout the last 107 years, but there's been shifts and different emphasis throughout that 107 years and, the thing is, it's all driven by the public.
(It's) about how the public wants these lands to be managed, what they need at any given time. Our challenge is to be able to provide that balance between meeting the needs of the current generation and then making sure that the resources are available for future generations."
Tidwell discussed partnerships with private organizations and communities (he's a big proponent); partnerships with oil and gas developers (he feels the service needs to work with development); development of timber (he'd like to increase it); invasive species (he says we need more resilient forests) and the evolution of the forest system during the briefing session. All in detail beyond the scope of this article, but the conversation kept coming back to balanced management and community partnerships.
"The thing that I would like to express is that I appreciate the communities here, their level of engagement," Tidwell said. "We understand how important these lands are to the communities. It's always been the way that we've gone about our work, to be able to work with the communities.
"It takes the Forest Service to find better ways to work in a more collaborative environment and it takes the community to be willing to spend their time.
"What I've found is, if you can invest in the front end to develop a better understanding of how the forests need to be managed, that's usually where we can gain some efficiencies.
"I'm very proud of the work our folks are doing and I'm also very pleased with how we're expanding this concept of having collaborations. It's a better way to work. It takes a little more time on the front end, but by investing the time... that's the thing that's going to be able to help us to continue to meet the needs of our communities."