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International Forestry: the Forest Service's fourth leg.

Congress has spoken, and now the U.S. Forest Service has four legs instead of three.

Traditionally the Forest Service was described as a three-legged stool since it had three missions: caring for the national forests, conducting forest research, and extending technical help to state and private forests. Late in 1990 Congress mandated that the agency reorganize itself into a four-legged stool. The new limb is International Forestry.

The man recently announced as the one chosen to head up the transition is jeff Sirmon, newly crowned deputy chief for international forestry. In his quiet, low-key voice, Sirmon calls the reorganization quite an event." In fact, it's a milestone in the agency's history.

Not that international work is new to the Forest Service, but in the past it was subordinated under research. Now its independent status is symbolized by its being headed up by a deputy chief and associate deputy chief.

The deputy chief job is a lateral move for jeff Sirmon who is shifting over from a six-year stint as deputy chief for programs and legislation. As one of Chief Dale Robertson's six-person (now seven) college of cardinals, Sirmon served as the chief's policy adviser, testified before congressional committees, coordinated the agency's environmental policy, and directed its strategic planning.

The Forest Service has been Sirmon's whole life. A graduate of Auburn University, he started out 33 years ago in the South and came up through the ranks, including two regional forester positions (Intermountain and the Pacific Northwest). Acquaintances describe him as open minded and innovative. Two big points in his favor in my book: He likes bicycling and fly fishing.

AFA vice president Al Sample calls Sirmon a combination of company man and independent thinker who "watches out for the interests of the Forest Service but has clear personal and professional values." Sirmon is no shrinking violet when it comes to climbing on a soapbox to express his values. That description would probably please him because he likes to think of himself as putting his view across subtly but effectively. However communicated, his perspective is a broad one.

The impetus for reorganizing the Forest Service came from Congress, but the legislation's purpose is not spelled out. "I think there is a lot unsaid," Sirmon says. "Congress couldn't get too specific or prescriptive for fear of narrowing the creativity of those who carry out the law.

Sirmon believes the intent was to prod the Forest Service into taking a more aggressive leadership role in international forestry by making the agency's organization explicitly reflect that priority.

"The Forest Service has been active in international forestry for a long time, but in a responsive role," he points out. In the past the agency has responded to requests for technical expertise and disaster know-how. Those requests ordinarily came from field programs planned and funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). "Now the Forest Service will be exploring a leadership role, says Sirmon. "I hope we can fill a niche no one else is filling and become the principal adviser to our government on forestry matters."

How that role is to be fulfilled is not defined. One of the first steps Sirmon plans is to convene a series of meetings with what he calls the "community of interests in international forestry-- government agencies with a global interest and nongovernmental organizations such as the World Resources Institute.

"We'll sit down and talk about their roles and responsibilities," he explains, and we'll describe the Forest Service's operation, what we've done in the past and what we have to offer, and what roles they see for us either as supporting other agencies such as AID or the State Department or in our own right. "

He does not anticipate a major involvement in the trade issue, but he does envision the Forest Service working closely with the State Department to help establish policies and develop specific programs to improve timber and other natural resources like fisheries.

One touchy issue is that of national sovereignty, a red flag waved by developing countries like Brazil whose forestry policies have global environmental impacts. Many developing nations don't like outsiders coming in and telling them what they should doespecially industrialized nations that have their own environmental sins.

Sirmon's answer to the sovereignty issue: There's no problem as long as you start with those on the ground; at the doing level, the issue never comes up. "In Brazil, if you started at the top," he says, 'they'd weigh every idea you came up with against this question of sovereignty."

As for the closely related issue of our nation's vulner-. ability on old-growth and below-cost timber sales, Sirmon admits that the Forest Service "can't ignore the international implications of some of our policies on public lands." The way to deal with criticism, he says, is "to explain the situation.(Environmentalists would probably point out that explanations haven't worked very well for the Forest Service here in the U.S.)

Another job Sirmon sees for the Forest Service is expanding its Resources Planning Act (RPA) responsibilities for gathering data on U.S. forests to the international scene. "We would start making assessments of the world forestry situation," he explains, "where the forests are, what's happening to them, how have a key policy position in the new setup.

Explaining one of the potential programs, Sirmon says, -We found that Brazil's national forests are not viewed as available for recreation. Many public forests are fenced and patrolled by guards at control gates. When four Brazilian forest supervisors paid a visit to U.S. national forests, they were struck by the way Americans love their forests, the amount of time they spend in them, the number of activities, and the number of volunteers. One of the Brazilians subsequently encouraged the tourism interests in his town to see how his national forest could be made available to Brazilians and tourists from other nations.

Rather than making a capital investment, the Forest Service's first step in this case would be to send a private-sector outfitter who knows the insurance risks and liabilities, along with a Forest Service expert who knows how to tie in with government," as Sirmon Puts it.

A second potential project was suggested by Brazilian Minister of Science and Technology Dr. Jose Goldemberg, who expressed interest in having the Forest Service help with reclamation of lands scarred by mining.

Thirdly, Sirmon would like to encourage Brazil to designate a few backcountry preserves "with some kind of custodial management that would at least start the pattern of public ownership. "

Finally, he notes that several research institutions in Brazil would like to explore debt-for-science swaps modeled on the well-publicized debt-for-nature swaps.

Sirmon notes that Congress has clearly established tropical forestry, especially in Brazil, as a high priority, but he cautions that priorities will need constant reexamination. The Forest Service may find other priorities emerging, such as investigating the effect of global warming on tundra and boreal forests.

That brings up the prospects for a global forestry agreement at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development to be held in Brazil in 1992. Sirmon doubts an agreement will be ready for ratification at Rio. If an agreement is reached, Sirmon expects it will be on principles, not prescriptions. "But if we can't get together on things like reforestation," he says, "one wonders about the future of this planet.'

He sees little hope for a world forestry agreement emerging from the Tropical Forestry Action Plan (see "Watershed Year for World Forests," p. 22), but he believes that "something will come out of the ashes. I think we'll have input and cooperation from a wider array of countries than before. There was a lot of the NIH [not-invented-herel factor [with TFAP]. That's a powerful factor. We run into it every day here in the Forest Service."

Sirmon does see changes occurring. The Brazilians, for example, welcomed the Forest Service officials "with open arms" and eagerness to address forestry questions. "I see signs that the message that this planet needs stroking is being heard throughout this part of the world," he says. -The ministers and administrators on the ground expressed great hope that the Rio conference will be a turning point for Brazil.

Finally, Sirmon gets around to spelling out his values. "Let's not let nature absorb some costs it doesn't have the capacity to absorb just because we want cheap products at the marketplace," he says. We have so much cushion in this country. We wouldn't starve by making some sacrifices. Sure, they would hurt-but not compared to what goes on in Brazil's slums. Here is where leadership must have vision."

jeff Sirmon plans to be in Rio, doing whatever he can to help a new day dawn for the world's forests. AF
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Author:Davis, Norah Deakin
Publication:American Forests
Date:Jul 1, 1991
Previous Article:America's Historic Forest takes root.
Next Article:Watershed year for world forests.

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