Wildfire season is already underway in Wisconsin's north woods, as fires rage and the region is under a Red Flag fire warning. But fire danger is only one of several key issues attracting the attention of the US Forest Service's new regional forester.
The US Forest Service manages tens of millions of acres of forest land across the country for the benefit of many stakeholders and for many purposes – commercial logging, recreation, and even wilderness preservation.
The National Forest system is divided into nine regions. One of the most geographically diverse is Region 9 – which runs from the Missouri River to the Atlantic Ocean. The region is headquartered here in Milwaukee – and overseen by the Regional Forester – a position just filled by Kathleen Atkinson.
Atkinson, who comes to Region 9 from a position in the USFS national office in Washington, says - like in other branches of the federal government, one of the major challenges today is maintaining the agency's service levels in a time of fiscal austerity.
Atkinson says the budget sequestration has had only a negligible impact so far. "But to prepare ourselves," she says, "what we have been doing is looking for cost efficiencies. We've been looking for ways that we can streamline some costs and save money to hopefully reduce any [future] impacts from the sequestration."
As fires burn in Wisconsin and other northern tier states, Atkinson says forest health is an issue across the eastern region. "Keeping our forests healthy in the midst of a changing climate," she says is a priority, as well as "preparing them for the future climate that may be different than what we have now."