130 Years Later, a New Challenge

By Deborah Gangloff
Washington, DC (September 16, 2008)- With the U.S. Forest Service, we are forging a new partnership to rebuild natural systems while continuing to build human networks. More than 130 years ago American Forests realized new public policies were needed to address the reckless degrading of the environment through out-of-control mining of forests with no regard for future generations. American Forests formed a partnership with industry leaders, bringing those concerned about the environment together with those focused on economics. We also gained President Teddy Roosevelt’s support when he created the U.S. Forest Service in 1905.

We are working with the Forest Service to again advance public policies to address today’s challenges. The country needs to rebuild its “natural system” while continuing to build the “human network.” Many agencies and organizations that do not focus on the environment must now join with agencies that do to rebuild the nation’s natural system. This change is even more challenging than the one more than 130 years ago because agencies that traditionally build infrastructure must rebuild the environment.
This initiative grew out of our urban forestry partnership with the U.S. Forest Service, which began in 1982. We helped the agency build a community of support for urban natural resources made up of government, nonprofits, and companies with expertise in arboriculture, urban planning and architecture, and urban forestry. That year we held our first national conference, we just hosted our 12th.
The partnership between American Forests and the Forest Service evolved along with the science and practice of urban forestry, moving from municipal tree care and management to urban planning and looking at the entire urban forest, the whole ecosystem, rather than a single tree pit.
This new initiative offers hope for an innovative way to coordinate infrastructure, economic activity, and urbanization with rebuilding the nation’s environmental system. We are proposing to slowly rebuild the essential life-supporting functions once provided by the natural system. This has never been done before. By starting with analyzing both “natural” ecosystems and the “human networks” we have created for commerce, transportation, and communication, we can see how these systems interact at broad scales.
Humans impact nature in an infinite number of ways, yet American Forests believes it’s possible to group these impacts into five categories:
* Fragmentation: how we divide and short-circuit ecosystems with roads, rails, power lines, and pipes;
* Depletion: how we overdraw resources from nature;
* Pollution: how cities return waste to nature;
* Erosion: how activities erode and change natural processes; and
* Extinction: how interactions between natural and human systems extinguish species and ecosystems.
Once we have established this and helped decision-makers understand what human systems are doing to our natural systems, we can develop strategies to manage the network more efficiently. Then we can rebuild the affected natural systems.
With the help of the U.S. Forest Service, State and Private Forestry (S&PF), we are conducting demonstration projects from New York to Florida. These projects bring together leaders from business, politics, academics, and the nonprofit world to use this new vision of Nature and the Network to rebuild and restore nature’s systems.
Election year politics make for difficult budget times, especially for big, new ideas. But while the President proposed an 80 percent reduction in FY09 funding for S&PF programs, where the agency serves the majority of Americans and can engage in big ideas, Congress has began to restore those dollars. Rather than the woefully inadequate $109 million in the White House budget for all S&PF programs, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior and Related Agencies has proposed an increase of 146 percent to $269 million. This represents just a 3 percent over FY08 funds, but demonstrates Congress’s recognition of the extremely high value of these programs to all Americans.
We applaud Forest Service employees determined to be part of the innovative future of nature and the network. While it is difficult to maintain a long-term vision in the face of annual budget trials, some in the agency are determined to be as visionary as their predecessors more than 100 years ago.
This new initiative offers hope for an innovative way to coordinate infrastructure, economic activity, and urbanization with rebuilding the nation’s environmental system.
For the full article, visit 130 Years Later, a New Challenge.