WASHINGTON, Dec. 8, 2009 – Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced today that U.S. Forest Service will commit an additional $40 million to address public safety concerns and forest health needs arising from the millions of acres of dead and dying trees from bark beetle infestations in the West. Vilsack made the announcement on a conference call with Colorado Governor Bill Ritter.
"Forest lands play a critical role in providing clean water and a healthier climate for all Americans, and the USDA is committed to protecting and preserving this important resource from pests like the bark beetle," said Vilsack. "These funds will help address the growing threat posed by the bark beetle to millions of acres of forests across the Western United States."
The additional funding will be provided to the Forest Service's Rocky Mountain Region, where some of the most serious levels of infestation are located. Included in this total will be five million dollars of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding that the Forest Service has been using to reduce the threat of wildfires. Additional funds will also be directed to the other western Regions.
Today's announcement will help make forests more resilient to climate change and protect and preserve them for future generations, key goals of the new vision for America's forests outlined by Vilsack earlier this year. Bark beetle is in epidemic stages across the Rocky Mountain region. The impacts have been especially severe in the Forest Service's Rocky Mountain Region, where over 2.5 million acres have been affected. The epidemic has had a severe impact on forest health and has resulted in a dramatic increase in the danger of trees falling on roads, trails and recreation areas. In addition, these dead and dying trees greatly increase the risk of fire danger in the communities of the Rocky Mountain Region and elsewhere in forested areas of the United States.
"These funds will help the Forest Service address this significant public safety and forest health priority," said Forest Service Chief Tidwell. "Employees of the Rocky Mountain Region and in other areas of the Forest Service will be able to make changes to their planned program of work in order to more aggressively focus on our Bark Beetle efforts."
Chief Tidwell said the Forest Service will work closely with the Administration and Congress to assure the increased funding is directed to the bark beetle impacted areas as quickly as possible.
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