The five-week partial government shutdown was a trying time for U.S. Forest Service employees and their families. But, with your help, we made it through. On behalf of Forest Service employees in the Southwestern region, I want to thank you, our communities, for your expressions of care and concern for our federal workforce. It is heartwarming and humbling to know that you saw beyond the “workforce” to see the people and the impact on their lives.

Times like these accentuate the importance of shared stewardship. Our mutual commitment to public lands and each other is invaluable. We are well aware of the partner, volunteer and community work that kept some of our visitor services functioning. We are grateful to and have great respect for our partners. We are so thankful for those strong partnerships we have in place to help deliver our mission of caring for the land and serving people.

During the past few weeks, citizens, partners, elected officials, other public servants, tribal and land grant communities and the media showed up for us. For example, private citizens, businesses and providers of all types of services made extraordinary offers toward the nourishment, care and well-being of our employees; the media carried on our “conservation conversation” on social media, TV and newspapers; our partners carried on our shared, conservation work; volunteer organizations picked up trash at trailheads and campgrounds; and citizens stocked outdoor restrooms with essentials.

At the same time, many of our employees continued to perform work vital to public safety as well as ongoing permits and contracts, some without the guarantee of pay. Still others were not allowed to perform the work they’ve dedicated their lives to. They are all grateful to you and the support the community has shown. I’m grateful to work around so many resilient and dedicated federal employees and I know we are all appreciative of the role our communities played in supporting us.

Across the Southwestern region of the Forest Service, we manage 11 national forests and grasslands. There are over 2,200 Forest Service employees who work and live in communities across the four states of Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and Oklahoma.

Our communities have a special historical, cultural and spiritual bond with the land. This region is home to over 50 Native American tribes and pueblos, in addition to the many rural communities that continue to rely on public lands for traditional uses, such as food, heat, folk remedies and religious practices. Similarly, national forests and grasslands are an essential element in communities that provide goods and services such as clean water and world-class recreation opportunities.

As community members, our shared values connect us and we share in life’s trials and triumphs. We cherish our part in the community connection and will continue to strive to be good neighbors.

We thank you wholeheartedly for the outpouring of support, and we look forward to continuing our conservation mission with you in the future.

Cal Joyner is the regional forester for Region 3 of the U.S. Forest Service.