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Climate & Energy
2013 Distinguished Lecture - Tom Tidwell: "Sustaining Forests in the Time of Climate Change"


Tom Tidwell on USFS Restoration Goals:

"By restoration I simply mean that restoring the functions and the processes that are characteristic of healthy, resistant, resilient, ecosystems even if it’s not exactly the same systems that were there before. I can't stress this enough what a challenge this is. The things that we all learned when we went to school, the things that we learned during our careers about what is the right prescription for this stand, what’s the right thing to do to stabilize this watershed--we need to recognize that what worked the last 20, 30, 40 years--50, 100 years, may not work in the future."

Not the Same Forest

"We’re also going to have to accept that there are certain places--there are certain ecosystems that we’re not going to be able to maintain. I think about some areas that I’ve worked with during my career with aspen and we would have a disturbance event that normally would just regenerate that aspen but now it doesn’t come back. And okay what did we do wrong; what do we need to do? But the reality is that especially beyond southern slopes and lower elevations we probably lost that site and we’re not going to get aspen back. So what we have to accept is to say okay what’s going to be there and focus on restoring that ecosystem, that system and to make sure we’re doing everything we can."

New Legal Authorities Needed for Forest Restoration

"Well for one is this concept of stewardship contracting. We’ve been using this for a decade now and we’re gaining a lot of support across the board that it’s a better tool because we can actually do all the work that needs to be done and not just the biomass removal but the trails work, the stream improvement work; they all can be done under one contract. … That’s an authority that we need to get reauthorized. … You know nobody supports the Clean Water Act more than the Forest Service. I mean that’s one of the foundational principles of the US Forest Service: water. But at the same time one of the best things that we can do to provide clean water is to have healthy forests."

The Importance of Green Infrastructure and Urban Forests

"Eighty percent of Americans now live in an urban setting. And we’re fortunate in this country that we have--I think it’s 100 million acres of urban forests in our communities. So the opportunity we have is to help folks understand the benefits of that and like I said earlier, it goes way beyond just making your street a little bit more livable. There’s actually strong economic benefits; so I think the more that we can make that connection I think we’ll understand that this is a good investment.

"The other key part of it is that with eighty percent of Americans living in urban environments it’s a great opportunity for us to be able to connect with them about the importance of forest and not just the urban forest but the nation’s forest so that it helps build support for the investment that needs to be made in the nation’s forest. If they understand the benefits of the forest in their neighborhood, the forest in their park, the forest in their city--that helps us then to have the avenue to be able to connect with them, to help them understand this larger picture."

Landscape-Scale Restoration

"We’re doing a better job today to understand that we need to look at these large landscapes. We used to do so much of our work on some very small pieces of land, and the analysis, the surveys that we required is very, very costly. Well today we recognize that when it comes to restoring these systems we have to look at large landscapes that really go way beyond our borders. So by looking at those large landscapes and applying the analysis and then the work that needs to be done, that’s also helping [implement active forest management policies]."

International Knowledge and Technology Sharing

"We’re very fortunate that we’re able to have an exchange program to be able to bring scientists from other countries to come here and work with us for a while and then have our scientists spend time in other countries. … And not only are there the direct benefits to our timber industry in this country but the benefits will come out of that for the entire world. And so by sharing not only just our knowledge but also our experiences, … with other countries maybe they can move a little bit faster than we did to understand what they need to do.

"Whether we're working in Peru or in the Middle East or with Russia, we also learn about how we can do a better job to move forward to restore these systems because when we talk about this changing climate no matter what we do in this country with our forested resources there is so much more that we can do throughout the world, if we can be working together and really promoting sustainable forestry and helping every country understand the benefits of maintaining the forest."

About the Pinchot Distinguished Lecture
The Pinchot Distinguished Lecture is an annual event focused on major ecological, economic, and social trends that are likely to influence the future course of natural resource conservation. The legacy of Gifford Pinchot -- both his place in conservation history and his respect for principled and provocative speech and prose -- is the premise for the Pinchot Distinguished Lecture Series. Through this series, the Pinchot Institute seeks to advance the understanding and current thinking about contemporary issues in natural resource conservation.

Transcripts of past Lectures are available here.

The Pinchot Distinguished Lecture is made possible by the support of our partners: the US Forest Service; Grey Towers National Historic Site; MeadWestvaco; and the Pinchot Associates. Please consider a contribution to support our work.

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