A Message from National Forest Foundation President and CEO Mary Mitsos
National Forest Foundation
by Mary Mitsos
Events over the past two weeks are a stark reminder, yet again, that our nation has a long way to go to create a just and equitable society. Senseless deaths continue to highlight systemic racism and injustice. Out of the darkness, I hope that we can all use this time to reflect, listen and learn more deeply about unequal access for black Americans to the richness of our country.
Why do we, as a conservation organization, speak to this today? The National Forest Foundation works on public lands, the places specified by law as held in trust for all Americans. The stated public promise of these 193 million acres of National Forests and Grasslands is that they are open and welcoming to all – that they belong to all Americans. However, being owned by all does not mean all share equally in these lands’ economic returns or public benefits. Being owned by all does not mean they are welcoming to all today. While seven in ten Americans live within a two-hour drive of a National Forest, for many in our country, they might as well be worlds away.
We have a responsibility to share stories that reflect all Americans’ lives. We must acknowledge the true narrative of the indigenous peoples whose lands are now encompassed by federal public lands. We must find new ways to provide a safe place for diverse communities to enjoy the wonder and peace of our natural world.
I know the public lands the NFF helps steward provide our nation with clean air, clean water, and wood products to build our homes. They provide oil, gas, and minerals to fuel our economy, grazing to help feed the country, vast recreational opportunities, and habitat for hunting, fishing, endangered plants, wildlife, and more. While I do not know how we ensure equitable access to all these benefits, I am resolved to work toward that with my NFF colleagues, volunteers, and partners.
Too often, our work proceeds without the inclusion of enough voices, without the wisdom of more stakeholders, without the intention of shared benefits. We need to change that.
I commit the NFF to action. We commit to sharing stories from diverse perspectives. To assist in providing funding and a safe place for diverse communities to enjoy the wonder, awe, and peace of our natural world, and the wildness of our public lands. We will redouble our efforts to diversify our Board and staff.
I know this will be not be easy, and it will take all of us. The road ahead will require all of us, regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, education, upbringing, economic status, geography, or other factors, to work together with respect and understanding. Please join with us, challenge us, and encourage us. If we veer off course, I ask that you steer us back onto the path toward a just and equitable society.