SEATTLE – Restoration and conservation are the goals that will guide management of the U.S. forest system under the Obama administration, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said Friday.
In his first major policy address on the nation’s forests at Seattle’s Seward Park, Vilsack said: “It is time for a change in the way we view and manage America’s forest lands with an eye toward the future. This will require a new approach that engages the American people and stakeholders in conserving and restoring both our national forests and our privately owned forests. It is essential that we reconnect Americans across the nation with the natural resources and landscapes that sustain us.”
His address was short on specifics, but elicited a generally positive reaction from conservationists and the timber industry – groups that often find very little to agree on.
Vilsack did say that the Forest Service would not appeal a recent federal court decision that struck down forest usage rules implemented during the Bush administration, which conservationists had charged relied too little on science and did not provide necessary protections for wildlife. The agriculture secretary also confirmed that the government plans to file a court appeal to maintain a 2001 ban on development in the nation’s last remaining roadless wilderness areas.
“It’s been a long time since we’ve heard anyone from the Forest Service talk about more than just timber,” said Kristen Boyles, an attorney with the environmental group Earthjustice.
And Charlie Raines of the Sierra Club said he was impressed with the secretary’s “all lands approach” connecting policy on public and private forest lands – 80 percent of U.S. forests lie outside the federal domain.
“Emerging markets for carbon and sustainable bioenergy will provide landowners with expanded economic incentives to maintain and restore forests,” Vilsack said Friday. “The Forest Service must play a significant role in the development of new markets … that also could provide landowners with incentives to restore watersheds and manage forests for clean and abundant water supplies. These markets can also create jobs in rural (areas).”
Timber industry officials welcomed the bridge between forest health and forest jobs that Vilsack laid out.
“We’re encouraged by his recognition that maintaining our milling and logging infrastructure is going to be important in maintaining the health of the forests,” said Ann Forest Burns, vice president of the American Forest Resource Council.
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