U.S. Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth said the massive agency must change its priorities and focus more on ecology and recreation.
"Given the scale of what we face, the main focus has to be on ecological restoration and outdoor recreation," he said Friday morning during a conference on forest health and wildfires. "To deliver all those goods and services and values, we have got to manage the land for longer-term ecosystem health."
He also said there is enough national forest to go around.
"I believe to my core that we can have the roadless area rules, can protect people's hopes, produce timber and produce jobs," he said.
And he stressed the importance of cooperation in working toward those goals.
"These things can all happen, but first we have to agree to stand on common ground," he said, adding that the Forest Service is entering a new period set apart from its history as a timber harvesting machine.
Bosworth said the Forest Service has four major concerns. Overgrown forests are contributing to large, destructive fires that are out of sync with historic regimes. Invasive species are continuing to sweep across the land. Urban centers are continuing to encroach on rural farmland. And unmanaged recreation is increasingly leaving its stamp on the land.
"Invasive species have contributed to the decline of almost half of endangered animals," he said.
Working farmland is disappearing at a rate of almost 4,000 acres a day.
"People will love their forests to death," he said. "The issues are not particularly new. We've been dealing with these for some time. But they require a lot more time and resources than others, certainly more than road building or timber harvest issues."
Former Idaho Gov. Cecil Andrus, chairman of the Andrus Center for Public Policy, reiterated Bosworth's call for cooperation. He said the need for improved cooperation and collaboration were the central themes he took away from the two-day conference.
"We have not been communicating with one another," he said. "There must be collaboration. Otherwise we will go on as we have been, and the resource will deteriorate."