USDA Secretary Outlines Forest Policy – New forest policy vision addresses restoration issues across broader landscapes, including both federal and private lands.
The vision for future forest policy recently revealed by the Obama Administration had a broad scope that could appeal to many sides, but lacked key tangible details.
U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack revealed the new direction for the Forest Service in his first major address regarding Forest Service policy.
Facilitating collaboration between various stakeholders and creating an ‘all-lands’ approach that covers both federal and private forests are just some of the avenues that the USDA Secretary said he planned to use to promote the conservation and restoration of America’s forests.
While he did not give many particulars on his plans, Secretary Vilsack did demonstrate that forest conservation was non-negotiable by the Obama Administration.
“President Obama has made clear his interest in conserving our natural environment, and I intend to take that responsibility very seriously and to devote the time necessary to do it right,” he said.
“While most Americans may live in urban areas, most of us are also dependent upon rural lands, particularly forest lands for clean water and a healthy climate. For these reasons, conserving our forests is not a luxury. It is, in my view, a necessity.”
An area that Secretary Vilsack did include some details on was forest restoration.
“Restoration, for me, means managing forest lands first and foremost to protect our water resources while making our forests far more resilient to climate change,” the Secretary said.
“In many of our forests, restoration will also include efforts to improve or decommission roads, to replace and improve culverts, and to rehabilitate streams and wetlands. Restoration will also mean the rehabilitation of declining ecosystems.”
Secretary Vilsack named three barriers that he said have historically kept the Forest Service from pursuing a restoration agenda – budget restraints, the loss of forest infrastructure from timber mill closures and distrust between environmentalists, the Forest Service and the forestry community.
In his speech, Secretary Vilsack appealed to both environmentalists and the forest products industry to move past the timber wars of the past and work together toward a common goal.
“Unfortunately, the debate about the future of our forests and our forest policy has been highly polarized for a long time,” he said. “But given the threats that our forests face today, Americans must move away from polarization. We must work and must be committed to a shared vision, a vision that conserves our forests and the vital resources important to our survival while wisely respecting the need for a forest economy that creates jobs and vibrant rural communities.”
The Secretary does not intend for collaboration to end with private entities, however. Integration among government agencies is also a goal of the USDA, particularly between the Forest Service and the National Resource Conservation Service, which assists conservation efforts on non-Federal lands.
In addition to facilitating collaboration between diverse stakeholders, Secretary Vilsack wants the Forest Service to be viewed as an agency whose concerns extend beyond federal forests to all forests, including state, tribal and private lands.
“The reality is that 80% of the forest area in the United States is outside of the national forest system,” Secretary Vilsack said. “And many of our national forests are adjacent to state and private land. Management decisions that are made both on and off the national forest obviously have important implications for that forest landscape.”
Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell agreed with Secretary Vilsack’s all-lands approach.
“We need to expand our efforts to ensure that we are using all of the USDA and other federal programs to address restoration issues across broader landscapes,” said Chief Tidwell. “Forest and grassland health, wildfire, water quality, and wildlife connectivity are issues that have never stopped at the boundaries of the National Forest System.”
According to Secretary Vilsack, sustainable forest management and restoration will be encouraged by new markets created by climate change that the Forest Service will help develop.
“Emerging markets for carbon and sustainable bioenergy will provide landowners with expanded economic incentives to maintain and restore our forests,” Secretary Vilsack said. “The Forest Service must play a significant role in the development of new markets and ensuring their integrity. Carbon and bioenergy aren’t the only new opportunities for landowners. Markets for water can also provide landowners with incentives to restore watersheds and manage forests for clean and abundant water supplies.”
According to Secretary Vilsack, both these new markets and traditional forest industry markets are vital to improving forest health.