U.S. Forest Service leaders discuss agency’s past, future

May 04, 2016

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Susan Spear, director of the U.S. Forest Service's Wilderness and Wild & Scenic Rivers programs in Washington, D.C., recently spoke to Penn State students and faculty members about the 110-year-old agency’s history and future.

Spear, along with Ralph Swain, regional wilderness and river program manager in Golden, Colorado, highlighted the Forest Service’s wilderness history, which began in 1964 with the Wilderness Act that protected 9 million acres of wilderness.

Today, the National Wilderness Preservation System protects more than 110 million acres. The vast coverage ranges from the Allegheny National Forest in Pennsylvania to the Tongass National Forest in Alaska to the Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado.

“I hope you’re getting a feel for the national diversity the Forest Service represents,” Swain told students and faculty members. “It’s really amazing.”

Ralph Swain talks to students

Ralph Swain, regional wilderness and river program manager for the U.S. Forest Service in Golden, Colorado, discussed the agency's wilderness history, including the Wilderness Act of 1964, which protected 9 million acres of land in the United States. 

IMAGE: Kevin Sliman

The agency provides outdoor experiences and environmental education to 160 million visitors each year, who mostly visit the lands for recreational purposes, Spear said.

“Recreation is the single greatest use of the national forest system,” Spear said.

At the same time, drought, invasive species and uncharacteristically severe wildfires have dramatically changed the agency’s financial landscape. The agency currently spends half of its budget on managing wildfires across the country.

“The shift is eroding our ability to deliver clean water, protect habitats and offer outdoor education programs,” Spear said. Spear is hopeful Congress will elect to fund wildfire suppression through the National Disaster Fund and relieve some of the agency’s financial challenges.

Meanwhile, the agency is working to develop sustainable programs for recreation and wilderness.

“We continue to refocus our efforts to strengthen and deepen connections with the public through outdoor experiences,” Spear said.

Also keen to students’ pursuing post-graduation employment, Spear said the agency is seeking particular qualities in job applicants.

“We want employees who are excited to come to work and who are full of innovative ideas, so we can better serve the American people,” Spear said.

Penn State’s Department of Recreation, Park and Tourism Management sponsored the April 29 event held in the Forest Resources Building as a way to discuss the latest trends and policy directives related to wilderness management. 

“Our department was excited to host this event, and learn more about research and employment opportunities in Forest Service-designated wilderness,” said Derrick Taff, assistant professor in the department.

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated May 04, 2016