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Secretary's Column: Strengthening America’s National Forests

Posted by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in Forestry
Oct 26, 2012

As harvest season continues, so does the historic drought that has impacted so many producers and communities. Today, USDA and other Federal agencies continue doing all we can to help farmers and ranchers. Unfortunately, due to inaction by Congress, many programs authorized under the 2008 Farm Bill expired on October 1, and other aspects of the law will continue to expire in the coming months.

While we continue to urge Congress to take up a Food, Farm and Jobs Bill as soon as possible, USDA continues our work to further economic opportunity in rural America.

This includes our efforts to protect, restore and properly manage America’s National Forests.

We remain in the midst of a serious fire season that continues today, particularly across the Western United States. USDA remains focused on restoring and enhancing our forests to protect communities while creating jobs.

For example, since 2009 USDA has improved more than 113,000 miles of forest roads and trails. We have also reduced flammable vegetation on more than 11 million acres of forests. These efforts protect rural communities from fire while enhancing forest vitality.

They also set the stage for more tourism.  In fact, in 2011, more than 166 million Americans visited a National Forest. These visits supported 200,000 jobs in rural communities. And through the “America’s Great Outdoors” initiative, we’re looking to build on that success by further reconnecting Americans to the outdoors.

USDA has modernized policies to manage our National Forests. We finalized a new “National Forest Planning Rule” that will allow communities to continue creating Forest jobs, while protecting the forest for generations to come. In Colorado, we finalized an updated strategy to manage roadless areas, protecting sensitive lands while generating more jobs. And in Arizona, we’re implementing the Four Forest Initiative to bring local stakeholders together, restore forests and reduce the threat of fire across 2 million acres.

We have supported the job creators that depend on the forest.  USDA is working in a number of regions across the U.S. to maintain forest mills – collaborating with local communities and conservation groups to maintain a sustainable timber supply, while restoring our forests.

Finally, we’re developing the future of wood-based products.  USDA has undertaken more than 80 new efforts nationwide to expand wood as an energy source. Our Forest Products Lab is pioneering amazing new uses for wood – such as developing nanocellulose for use in plastics, electronics, aerospace materials, body armor, and more.

For decades, America’s National Forests have stood as a tremendous national treasure. Today, their value continues – providing recreation, economic benefits, jobs and cutting edge new materials.

At USDA we will continue working to restore, protect and enhance the Forests. We understand that strong National Forests mean a stronger economy for many rural areas.

For an audio version of this week's column, please click here.

Category/Topic: Forestry