USDA Forest Chief Tom Tidwell Speaks at ARC March 24, 2011 Recreation Exchange

USDA Forest Chief Tom Tidwell Speaks at ARC Recreation Exchange

March 25, 2011 (Washington, D.C.) - Tom Tidwell, Chief of the USDA Forest Service, was the special guest speaker at the Recreation Exchange on March 24, 2011 hosted by the American Recreation Coalition in Washington, D.C.

Exchanges have featured guests who are influencing recreation public policy in America near-monthly since 1979.

As Chief of the Forest Service, Mr. Tidwell leads the agency responsible for the management of 193 million acres of national forests and national grasslands. These lands provide an amazing diversity of outdoor recreation opportunities, connecting people with nature in an unmatched variety of settings and activities and hosting some 200 million recreation visits to national forests annually.

The Chief has spent 33 years with the Forest Service, serving in a variety of positions at all levels of the agency. As Supervisor of the Wasatch-Cache National Forest during the XIX Olympic Winter Games in 2002, he helped showcase the role of the national forests in alpine skiing. As Deputy Regional Forester for the Pacific Southwest Region, he facilitated collaborative approaches to wildland fire management, roadless area management, and other issues. As Regional Forester for the Northern Region, he strongly supported community-based collaboration in the region, finding solutions based on mutual goals and thereby reducing the number of appeals and lawsuits.

In 2009, after being named Chief, Mr. Tidwell set about implementing Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack's vision for America's forests. Under his leadership, the Forest Service is focusing on restoring healthy, resilient forest and grassland ecosystems — ecosystems that can sustain all the benefits that Americans get from their wildlands, including plentiful supplies of clean water, abundant habitat for wildlife and fish, renewable supplies of wood and energy, and more.

Mr. Tidwell has facilitated an all-lands approach to addressing the challenges facing America's forests and grasslands, including the overarching challenge of climate change. Such challenges cross borders and boundaries; no single entity can meet them alone. The Forest Service is now working with states, Tribes, private landowners, and other partners for landscape-scale conservation — to restore ecosystems on a landscape scale.

The Chief shared with Recreation Exchange participants the importance recreation has had on his personal life. He told of his experiences growing up in Idaho, noting that he regarded the Boise National Forest as his backyard. He also talked of the change in his camping — from backpacking to reliance on more hard-sided accommodations to help his family feel safe in grizzly country. His own experiences prompted his personal interest in promoting the outdoors to youth. “I worry about our youth not having these experiences,” he said. “We want the youth of today to explore their outdoors and forests and to be comfortable and safe.” He also described skiing the downhill course at the Winter Olympics the day prior to competition.

He addressed key issues and activities, including the Obama Administration's America's Great Outdoors (AGO) Initiative and the Forest Service's proposed Planning Rule as well as current and potential partnerships with the recreation community. He emphasized the value of recreation in the national forests to the nation in terms of jobs and the economy — at least $14.5 billion, or more than half of the total contribution of the Forest Service to GDP — and health, saying, “Recreation is a major part of our role in managing the 193 million acres of forests and grasslands. We recognize the full value of recreation to the nation and communities, such as economic and employment opportunities, and healthy lifestyles.”

Mr. Tidwell told the group that the White House’s AGO Initiative was “an incredible opportunity,” saying the report released on February 16 offers a platform for expanding recreation and “an opportunity to highlight the benefits of the outdoors on health and well being.” During the listening sessions for the America’s Great Outdoors report, Americans made it clear that they want the opportunity to connect with the outdoors. In response, he said, the Forest Service intends to help Americans better appreciate and understand what America has to offer by making the outdoors more accessible and more attractive. He also linked the AGO initiative with the First Lady’s Let’s Move Outside campaign and efforts to curb the “$2 trillion-plus we spend annually on preventable medical care.”

The Chief told the group that the official figures on national forest recreation uses and associated economic activity were conservative. The Forest Service National Visitor Use monitoring reports 173 million recreational visits each year, but the Chief noted that another 300 million visits occur on forest scenic byways and other travel routes through national forests. The total number of annual recreation visits to America’s National Forest is probably over one billion, he said. Mr. Tidwell emphasized the importance of recreation to our recovering economy. “The recreation industry is the economic driver for much of America, and especially rural communities, perhaps much more than people know," he said. “The more we talk about the economic benefits, the better.”

Mr. Tidwell recognized the challenge of providing access to and managing recreation on “every acre” of the Forest Service’s 193 million acres of forests and national grasslands. He said the Forest Service has a renewed focus — due to AGO’s imperative — to reconnect people with the outdoors and to “drive economic value for everyone” by balancing various requests by Americans for forest use. The AGO can make a big difference to the future, he said, so much so that, 20 years from now, we will look back and see its impact.

The Chief talked next about the Forest Service Planning Rule draft, which was released on February 10 and is now in public comment stage. He thanked the recreation community for their input and said the Forest Service has learned a lot since the 1982 plan. “We heard loudly and clearly from you that recreation needed to be elevated in our planning,” he said. He reminded those assembled that the draft is open for public comment and urged additional public comment adding, “We need your help.”

He said that the Forest Service is counting on the input of Americans so that it may create a clearly written final rule that stands the test of time — and the courts — and is adaptable to changing needs and conditions. Mr. Tidwell emphasized the importance of planning for the future – that people will want and need different ways to access and enjoy public lands 10 or 40 years from now. He said, “We need to look at visitor needs and how we invest and plan for what's best long range. We must be adaptable.”

Mr. Tidwell responded to a question about how the Forest Service can find new ways to work with partners. The Chief said that “partners are essential” to providing Americans what they want on Forest Service land. In most cases, he said, it's better for a partner to provide a service because it generally “increases the quality of the experience and the visitor’s sense of ownership of the land.” The purpose of a partnership, he said, is to provide the “better facilities [that] the public wants.” Mr. Tidwell championed new and expanded partnerships in trail maintenance, campground design, construction and operation, ski area expansion into off-season operations and places for motorized sports. “We need to commit to working together,” he said. When asked about the Forest Service’s plans for seeking corporate philanthropic support, he said such outreach was done through the National Forest Foundation and other groups, and agreed that this effort needed to be expanded.

The Chief lauded programs though which recreationists give back to the places they treasure, noting the $1 guest donation program at several ski areas, with the funds generating support for projects in those specific areas. It is generally an “opt-out” program, he explained, and very few opt-out of making the donation.

Mr. Tidwell concluded his comments by emphasizing the importance of: submitting public comments on the draft of the Planning Rule; using the AGO to forge partnerships within the recreation community; and expanding youth programs. He also highlighted the Forest Service’s shift to focusing more on recreation and recreation access and work with communities to acquire and maintain open space.

Information on past and future Exchanges is available at:
If you would like to contact Tom Tidwell, he can be reached as follows:
Tom Tidwell, Chief
USDA Forest Service
1400 Independence Avenue, S.W.
Washington, DC  20250   (202) 205-1661

Recreation Exchanges are made possible by the following sponsors:
American Association for Nude Recreation
American Horse Council
American Motorcyclist Association
Bureau of Land Management
Bureau of Reclamation
National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds
National Marine Manufacturers Association
National Park Service
National Tour Association
Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association
Recreation Vehicle Industry Association
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
U.S. Forest Service