Vilsack Directs Forest Service to Take Bold Action for Forests

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Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack directed the U.S. Forest Service to take bold actions to restore forests, improve resilience, and address the climate crisis. He made the announcement in recorded remarks at the inaugural US Chapter Summit held to discuss how the coalition can support federal efforts to conserve, restore and grow forests across the country.

“Globally, forests represent some of the most biodiverse parts of our planet,” Vilsack told the summit, “yet drought and intensifying and catastrophic wildfires are threatening our forests to such a degree that many are not able to regenerate on their own.”

“This is why today I am directing Forest Service Chief Randy Moore and Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment, Dr. Homer Wilkes, to take a series of immediate and near-term actions to build carbon stewardship and climate resilience in our national forests.”

Vilsack’s action comes, in part, in response to President Biden’s Executive Order on Strengthening the Nation’s Forests, Communities, and Local Economies, which tasks the Department of Agriculture with a series of actions to pursue science-based, sustainable forest and land management. This includes intensifying work to reduce wildfire risk, accelerate reforestation, restore ecosystems, support forest products jobs and markets in rural communities, and define and inventory old-growth and mature forests on federally managed lands.

The actions directed in Vilsack’s memorandum include identifying forests at risk, how those areas are currently managed, and analyzing how potential data gaps might be resolved.

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The Forest Service analysis will then be used to develop a decision support tool to enhance carbon stewardship, wildlife habitat, watersheds, outdoor recreation and more.

His memorandum also directs the Forest Service to take more immediate actions, including developing plans for increasing the safe use of prescribed fire, fostering innovative markets for sustainable forest products, conducting an inventory of old-growth and mature forests, accelerating reforestation, and boosting nursery capacity to grow more tree seedlings for post-fire recovery and other planting efforts.

Finally, the memorandum instructs the Forest Service to include guidance on how to use new data, tools, and traditional ecological knowledge in their plans and recommendations, and in ways that help to advance equity and environmental justice, while leveraging and building on upcoming and ongoing efforts in carrying out the memorandum’s direction.

“America’s forests already capture more than 10 percent of our nation’s carbon emissions each year, and they have the potential to do more,” said Vilsack. “We must safeguard and restore our forests to ensure they store carbon, rather than release it through catastrophic wildfire.”