Dale Bosworth is the fifteenth Chief of the U.S. Forest Service. He is a veteran forester, who has worked extensively in the Intermountain West. Chief Bosworth graduated from the University of Idaho. This interview was conducted in 2004 for OUTDOOR IDAHO’s “War of the Weeds” program.
Why worry about weeds?
So one of our big challenges is to educate people and help people understand the consequences of not paying attention to weeds.
What are the consequences?
Being from Idaho, I spent a lot of time in the woods in the early 1960’s. I left this country for about ten years and came back as regional forester. The thing that really struck me was the difference in that ten or twelve years. It was huge. It was absolutely huge. The effect on biodiversity, the effect on recreation, the effect on wildlife, the effect on water quality, all those things became very, very apparent to me.
There isn’t anything in the national forest that isn’t affected by weeds. It costs Americans something like $135 billion a year for invasive species. That’s huge.
Did this problem sneak up on us?
Rush skeletonweed, when it was first spotted in the 1960’s, was a quarter of an acre. There’s now three million acres in Idaho of rush skeletonweed!
I used to be a district ranger up in the Clearwater forest back in the 1970’s. I went all through that country, and I very seldom saw any spotted knapweed. A few years ago I floated the Selway River and it was solid knapweed, from beginning to the end, down along the river. And that’s one of the largest wilderness areas in the lower forty eight states, right in the middle of it.
So we’re doing things to stop the spread, but we’re pretty late. What we need to do now is stop any further spread, and then start eradicating those places where it’s taken over.
In northern Idaho yellow starthistle is a huge problem. Well, we don’t want that in southern Idaho. Of course for those folks, they’re saying we don’t want to allow rush skeletonweed to spread any further north. And we don’t want leafy spurge to come any further from the east, because it’s terrible in Montana.
What are the solutions?
Idaho is one of the leaders in the nation in trying to deal with this problem. Other states can learn from the things people in Idaho have been doing.
Wildfire doesn’t stop when it leaves the national forest, and neither do weeds; and that makes the value of working together that much more important. By establishing organizations that can work across boundaries, we can make a big difference. But the only way we can accomplish what needs to be accomplished is to form those kinds of collaborative groups.
Lately I’ve spent a lot more time on this issue, particularly trying to help people become more aware of it. We’ve developed a Forest Service-wide agency strategy on how to deal with invasives. To me half the battle is just getting public awareness raised about the huge threat to people’s life style and opportunities.
People at the state level are very anxious for the Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, to become good partners in dealing with the weed problem, because everybody recognizes you can’t do it alone. But if you bring all the different levels of government together, private landowners, and non government organizations, then we do have some hope of controlling and managing and dealing with the weed problem.
I feel that local governments and local folks really welcome the assistance from the Forest Service.