A Talk with Jim Lyons

By Hopps, Michael | American Forests, September-October 1993 | Go to article overview

A Talk with Jim Lyons


Hopps, Michael, American Forests


AMERICAN FORESTS was encouraged by President Clinton's naming of James Robert Lyons as Assistant Secretary of Agriculture for Natural Resources and Environment. Lyons, who took the oath of office May 12, will direct policy and oversee the activities of both the Forest Service and the Soil Conservation Service. AMERICAN FORESTS' Neil Sampson, Gary Moll, Gerald Gray, and Al Sample have worked closely with Lyons in the past on matters ranging from policy to urban forestry. Lyons received a Master of Forestry degree from Yale University in 1979, before serving three years as a program analyst with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, followed by four years as director of resource policy for the Society of American Foresters. He then spent six years as a staff assistant with the House Committee on Agriculture, where he directed policy and legislative activities affecting forestry and natural resources, conservation, environmental issues, pesticides, and food safety. During that period, from 1989 to 1991, he also was the agricultural advisor to Congressman Leon Panetta (D-CA).

Lyons came up with the "Gang of Four" study, in which a panel of four eminent scientists looked at and then laid out the basis for what it would take to preserve the northern spotted owl. A young man in a hurry, Lyons seems to spend most of his time either in meetings or rushing between them. Freelancer Michael Hopps caught up with him Friday, July 16.

AF: You spent the last several years in Congress, where many members were critical of the Bush Administration's environmental policies. With the changing of the guard, suddenly you're one of those who could be on the receiving end of harsh words. How is your situation different now?

LYONS: It's certainly different being in the executive branch and being responsible for implementing the laws that I helped members construct while I was up there. I guess what I find most interesting is that on Capitol Hill there's an ability to get a relatively few members or staff together to sit down and work on an issue and try to bring it to some resolution. In any administration, there are more players, more programs, and more resources that have to be brought together and coordinated to deal with an issue.

AF: President Clinton has expressed a desire to see more integration among federal agencies. What have you seen this administration do so far to coordinate this, particularly in the Pacific Northwest?

LYONS: I would argue that the ongoing efforts in the Pacific Northwest are probably the best example of a coordinated approach to dealing with resource-management problems. A number of federal departments and agencies have worked closely together to devise the President's forest plan, including the resource management and the labor and community-assistance elements, as well as trying to develop a framework for future interagency cooperation and coordination on the issue.

AF: Last June, Chief Dale Robertson said the Forest Service would be adopting Ecosystem Management as a guiding philosophy. How is the agency now going about setting EM in motion?

LYONS: We're still defining what Ecosystem Management consists of. But most importantly, the Pacific Northwest is serving as a laboratory to see how Ecosystem Management might be implemented. And I prefer to think that this might serve as a framework for developing EM strategies for other forest types, for other ecosystems in other parts of the country. Ecosystem Management has never really been tried before--not on the scale we're attempting to do it in the Pacific Northwest.

AF: Is it too early to talk about any results?

LYONS: Well, the plan we've put together not only integrates the biological and ecological concerns but also addresses some of the social and human aspects of Ecosystem Management. We shouldn't lose sight of the fact that people are an extremely important part of the ecosystem; in fact, they have probably the greatest impact on it. …

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