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Letter from Chief Dombeck to Forest Service Employees

I have spoken to many of you in recent weeks and know that you are all very busy. Retirees tell me they cannot remember when the Forest Service was involved in as many important conservation issues as we are today. This is exactly where we ought to be - engaged in the tug and pull of helping our nation to grapple with the most significant public land issues of our day.

Some of you have shared with me your discomfort about the contentious nature of the debate over issues such as roads, roadless areas, planning regulations, and county payments. Others have commended Forest Service leadership for taking on difficult issues that have defied resolution for decades. It is important to remember that most of these issues are not new. It has always been the responsibility of the Forest Service to respond to changing public values and new information.

Consider the issue of roadless areas. Chief John McGuire first attempted to resolve the roadless area question through a wilderness inventory (RARE I) that evolved into RARE II and was completed by Max Peterson. Then followed the first round of forest planning that was brought to completion under the tenure of Dale Robertson. Most recently, my immediate predecessor, Jack Ward Thomas, wrestled with the controversy of roadless areas by instructing that roadless areas be removed from the timber base if managers didn't intend to enter them.

All of these labors were in response to the growing body of scientific information and represented our best effort to reflect the will of the people. I hope that you take the long view when considering the roadless issue. The roadless area initiative does not plow new ground so such as it represents a new approach to an old problem. We went through RARE I and RARE II, we tried 20 years of local planning efforts, and a directive to forest supervisors to address the issue through plan adjustments, yet the controversy still persists.

The plain fact is that we spend so many human and financial resources on intractable issues such as roadless that it impedes our ability to act on other priorities such as: getting ahead of our maintenance backlog; providing jobs through forest and grassland restoration; conducting research to reduce consumer demand for, and recycling of wood fiber; building a highly valued and skilled workforce for the 21st century; and spreading the benefits of conservation from public lands to state and private lands.

We should continually ask what is it that will make the Forest Service unique in 10, 20, 50 years. I don't have all the answers, but I do know that in an increasingly developed landscape, rare and vanishing roadless area values such as wildness, naturalness, clean drinking water, wildlife and fish habitat, and dispersed recreation opportunities will become more and more important.

Finally, I know that many of you are concerned about the political undertone of the roadless dialogue. Natural resource management has always been controversial and political - from the creation of the "midnight reserves" by Gifford Pinchot and President Teddy Roosevelt, through early efforts by the Forest Service to regulate grazing, through Rachel Carson's publication of "Silent Spring," and yes, including our 25 years of wrestling with the issue of roadless areas.

We are moving forward through the roadless rulemaking standing on the shoulders of giants and building on the legacy they left to us. The conservation options before us today are testimony and tribute to the foresight of our earlier leaders. It is a legacy of which to be proud - one that will be remembered and appreciated by future generations. Now it is our turn. I am confident that our approach to conserving roadless lands will ensure that the world's foremost conservation organization stands tall in that accounting.

Thanks for your commitment to conservation.

/s/ Mike Dombeck

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