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A talk with Jim Lyons.

AMERICAN FORESTS was encouraged by President Clinton's naming of James Robert Lyons as Assistant Secretary of Agriculture for Natural Resources and Environment. Lyons, who took the oath of office May 12, will direct policy and oversee the activities of both the Forest Service and the Soil Conservation Service. AMERICAN FORESTS' Neil Sampson, Gary Moll, Gerald Gray, and Al Sample have worked closely with Lyons in the past on matters ranging from policy to urban forestry. Lyons received a Master of Forestry degree from Yale University in 1979, before serving three years as a program analyst with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, followed by four years as director of resource policy for the Society of American Foresters. He then spent six years as a staff assistant with the House Committee on Agriculture, where he directed policy and legislative activities affecting forestry and natural resources, conservation, environmental issues, pesticides, and food safety. During that period, from 1989 to 1991, he also was the agricultural advisor to Congressman Leon Panetta (D-CA).

Lyons came up with the "Gang of Four" study, in which a panel of four eminent scientists looked at and then laid out the basis for what it would take to preserve the northern spotted owl. A young man in a hurry, Lyons seems to spend most of his time either in meetings or rushing between them. Freelancer Michael Hopps caught up with him Friday, July 16.

AF: You spent the last several years in Congress, where many members were critical of the Bush Administration's environmental policies. With the changing of the guard, suddenly you're one of those who could be on the receiving end of harsh words. How is your situation different now?

LYONS: It's certainly different being in the executive branch and being responsible for implementing the laws that I helped members construct while I was up there. I guess what I find most interesting is that on Capitol Hill there's an ability to get a relatively few members or staff together to sit down and work on an issue and try to bring it to some resolution. In any administration, there are more players, more programs, and more resources that have to be brought together and coordinated to deal with an issue.

AF: President Clinton has expressed a desire to see more integration among federal agencies. What have you seen this administration do so far to coordinate this, particularly in the Pacific Northwest?

LYONS: I would argue that the ongoing efforts in the Pacific Northwest are probably the best example of a coordinated approach to dealing with resource-management problems. A number of federal departments and agencies have worked closely together to devise the President's forest plan, including the resource management and the labor and community-assistance elements, as well as trying to develop a framework for future interagency cooperation and coordination on the issue.

AF: Last June, Chief Dale Robertson said the Forest Service would be adopting Ecosystem Management as a guiding philosophy. How is the agency now going about setting EM in motion?

LYONS: We're still defining what Ecosystem Management consists of. But most importantly, the Pacific Northwest is serving as a laboratory to see how Ecosystem Management might be implemented. And I prefer to think that this might serve as a framework for developing EM strategies for other forest types, for other ecosystems in other parts of the country. Ecosystem Management has never really been tried before--not on the scale we're attempting to do it in the Pacific Northwest.

AF: Is it too early to talk about any results?

LYONS: Well, the plan we've put together not only integrates the biological and ecological concerns but also addresses some of the social and human aspects of Ecosystem Management. We shouldn't lose sight of the fact that people are an extremely important part of the ecosystem; in fact, they have probably the greatest impact on it. So developing an EM strategy has to take into account not only the natural but the human element. We're talking about trying to manage forest ecosystems to provide sustainable resource outputs--not just timber outputs--as a basis for sustaining the economies of rural communities.

AF: Ecosystem Management thus far has been limited mostly to the National Forest System and to research. Some people feel the state and private lands have been excluded. How will this change? What are your views on the role of private ownership of lands that are interspersed with public forestland?

LYONS: I think it's important, in assessing EM opportunities, to look at the entire landscape, regardless of the geopolitical boundaries. That goes for the jurisdictions of different federal agencies, as well as state and private lands. I think the potential role of state and private forests has been ignored to this point in time, and we've got to keep in mind that nearly 60 percent of all the forestland in the U.S. is private nonindustrial forestland.

AF: Do you hope to encourage EM on these private lands?

LYONS: My hope is that we can help private landowners understand what role they may play in providing for healthy forest ecosystems.

AF: What plans and partnerships, between private and public ownership, are out there already?

LYONS: The efforts underway in the Northwest, again, provide a basis for assessing the potential partnerships that exist. On the Olympic Peninsula, for example, there is a significant state experimental forest that's in place. Last year legislation was passed that provided a mechanism for facilitating coordination between the state and federal ownerships. And I see the potential to sit down with some of the private landowners out there to talk about partnerships that might develop so we can all aid in managing healthy ecosystems and at the same time produce the goods and services the public demands from those resources.

AF: How is the Applegate Partnership in southern Oregon's Medford District coming along?

LYONS: The Applegate Partnership |a coalition in the 500,000-acre Applegate River watershed consisting of representatives from the Bureau of Land Management, the Forest Service, private industry, local residents, agricultural and environmental groups, forest researchers, and scientists~ is a good example of how local interests and concerns can become more involved in forest management. In fact, it has served as one of the models for one element of the President's plan--the Adaptive Management Areas |10 areas where citizen panels will advise agencies planning timber harvests~. This is part of what we need to achieve when it comes to Ecosystem Management--recognizing and encouraging increased public participation in the process of determining how those forestlands are going to be managed.

I offer one caution, though: Some have been critical of too great a role for local communities in planning and determining how forests are managed. We will always comply with our legal requirements to allow all interested parties to have input to the planning process. Nevertheless, I think it's important to recognize the unique role that local communities play and try to encourage their active participation.

AF: The Administration's plan for finding a balance between industrial and environmental interests in the forests of the Pacific Northwest has already taken some criticism. Or do you see it this way?

LYONS: I think we've gotten a good response, frankly, from parties in the Northwest. All sides are concerned that their particular interests have not been addressed to their satisfaction. But this is the price of trying to strike a balance--and one of the difficulties of trying to chart a course that is scientifically sound and legally responsible. Past management--as illustrated by the fact that we're tied up in court--has not done a satisfactory job. The President has laid a plan on the table that, though it's controversial, nevertheless provides the blueprint for resolving our management problems and getting us out of the courts and back into the woods.

AF: What strategy are you considering for releasing further details to the public?

LYONS: Just today we will be going to Judge William Dwyer and presenting him with the supplemental EIS |environmental impact statement~ for the spotted owl, which is what the judge has criticized and is the basis for the injunctions against our federal timber sales. By the end of the month, the entire document will be available to the public and we will begin the public comment process.

AF: The attention the Pacific Northwest has received lately perhaps has obscured some things the Forest Service is doing elsewhere around the country. The Service calls itself an agency run by the public, if the public will only say clearly what it wants. What else is going on around the country that you would like the public to pay more attention to?

LYONS: Before I answer, let me just say this: It is important to recognize that the national forests are really made for and owned by the people. That's not something I made up--it's something Gifford Pinchot said back in 1907. It's very important that the public make clear what its interests and concerns are and how it would like to see the public resources managed. And it's our job as stewards of those public lands to respond to public concerns. Those concerns are reflected both in public comments and in the statutory direction that the agencies receive.

In terms of things we're doing elsewhere, there's a lot of exciting effort underway to change management direction and be more responsive to other multiple-use concerns--to produce timber in a more environmentally sensitive way, and to look at management opportunities to improve recreation, to promote better public understanding of forest ecosystems and their function. And one of the areas I'm particularly interested in is urban forestry and some of the opportunities we have there.

AF: Do you consider urban forestry to be a significant element of our natural resources?

LYONS: It's extremely significant. Consider the important role people play in ecosystems. Most of our population resides in urban and suburban areas. And the urban and community forestry programs afford us, as foresters, an opportunity to share the benefits of good forest management with that public and also afford the public an opportunity to better understand their relationship to the forest.

I see forestry serving as the pioneer, if you will, in the development of an interest in and understanding of urban resources. And there's a lot of potential just now starting to be realized: urban wildlife programs, for example, and heightened interest in greenways and waterways in urban settings.

AF: With the reauthorization of the Endangered Species Act, environmentalists are beginning to ask about ALL species--not just the northern spotted owl. Is the reauthorization sufficient to address their concerns?

LYONS: As the legislative safety net for protecting threatened and endangered species, the act has done a fairly effective job. But I wish we'd done a better job of looking at the ecosystems these species depend on. Hopefully, in the future we'll respond more quickly to their habitat needs, so we don't find ourselves in a position where we have to protect species by species. If we develop a greater understanding for the role of ecosystems and their relationship to species, perhaps we can minimize the need to use the Endangered Species Act in the future and focus more on Ecosystem Management.

AF: What programs do you foresee for international forestry, now that it's the fourth branch of the Forest Service?

LYONS: People are coming to realize the degree to which the actions and activities of all countries affect us here in the U.S. And the U.S. can play a vital leadership role in providing better understanding of good forestry and good conservation. And I hope we can expand that role. And I think USDA is positioned to be a real leader in providing that kind of international expertise.

AF: What role would you like to see the Forest Service play for sustainable development abroad?

LYONS: The Forest Service is poised to provide the technical assistance and understanding of forest-ecosystem functions and proper forest-management techniques to avert some of the potential environmental problems that could develop in other countries. We can develop a greater understanding of forests' role in affecting climate and certainly in affecting water quality and the status of other resources in these other countries. We need to expand our activities there and at the same time offer to share our expertise with countries that desire it.

AF: What do you see as the role of science and scientists in policymaking? Some think the scientists have too much say. What amount of science-based policy is appropriate?

LYONS: Science is an important underpinning for good policy. But science is a process, not a product. I think it's important that we seek scientific expertise and opinion in devising policies, but the ultimate decision for policy has to rest with policymakers.

AF: Would you like to see more science-based policy?

LYONS: I can assure you that the Forest Service, which is blessed with probably the most effective natural-resource program in the world, will do more to try and use the scientific expertise we have for developing scientifically based, ecosystem-driven policies.

AF: You've been a promoter of the Forest Stewardship program for non-industrial private landowners. How would you like to see it implemented?

LYONS: I think the stewardship program is a key to helping educate and capture the interests and initiatives of private landowners, who may have more than simply timber as their ultimate management objective. To this point, programs like the ACP (Agricultural Conservation Program) and the FIP (Forestry Incentives Program) programs have encouraged tree planting and other management activities primarily oriented to commercial timber production. We designed the stewardship program in the '90 Farm Bill to allow the federal government to help landowners manage their lands for more than simply timber production. Our role should promote good stewardship of public and private forestlands. And where private landowners want to help or are interested in assistance, we ought to be there to provide it.

AF: You're familiar with Aldo Leopold's classic work A Sand County Almanac, in which he refers to Homer's Odyssey, where Odysseus returns from his trip and hangs a number of unfaithful slaves. Leopold writes that Odysseus felt justified in doing this because the slaves were his property, just as, more recently, developers have felt justified in doing whatever they wanted with land they considered their property. Leopold's point, of course, is that land is not property, and he felt, while writing 45 years ago, that we were just coming to realize this. It's a simple concept, but once adopted, it's a paradigm shift. How far has the Forest Service, in the last few decades, come in recognizing this?

LYONS: What you're talking about, I think, is the development of a land ethic and its use as an underpinning for guiding forest-management philosophy, programs, and policy. I think great strides have been made in promoting a land ethic and a greater understanding by all landowners of the important role they play in affecting environmental quality. We certainly need to do more in that area. But I think it's also important to recognize that our primary role there is to provide assistance, encouragement, information, and knowledge that will lead landowners to manage in a way that's good for the resource--not only their land base but other resources that are impacted by that land.

AF: Is it an exciting time to have the job you have now?

LYONS: |Laughs.~ Every day is exciting. Those of us who are trained in forestry seldom get the opportunity to step into a position like this and see what we can do with it. I look forward to the challenges and the opportunities and think that if we can do a better job of establishing the framework and beginning the process of developing policies and programs that will provide for better land and resource management into the next century, then I'll feel I've accomplished what I set out to do here.
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Title Annotation:Assistant Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment
Author:Hopps, Michael
Publication:American Forests
Article Type:Interview
Date:Sep 1, 1993
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