Washington DC- Today, U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA), a member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, announced that he has sent a letter to United States Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack urging the Administration to step up efforts to protect National Forests, including the Allegheny National Forest in Northwestern Pennsylvania. The Allegheny National Forest stretches across Elk, Forest, McKean and Warren counties yet most federal resources and attention are focused on National Forests in Western states. The letter, which was also sent by Senators Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Al Franken (D-MN), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Gary Peters (D-MI), and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) asks the agency to make progress on responsible timber harvests which are critical to Northwestern Pennsylvania’s economy. The letter also requests USDA to continue conservation strategies in forest planning, increase the speed and efficiency of forest health practices, and more extensively use collaborative forestry practices.
The Senators wrote, “We write to request that you redouble your efforts to sustainably manage and protect our national forests in the Midwest and Eastern United States,” the Senators wrote in their letter. “While the Administration has made a variety of improvements in adhering to and advancing the multiple use mandate that governs our national forests, more progress must be made.”
The full text of the letter can be seen below:
Dear Secretary Vilsack:
We write to request that you redouble your efforts to sustainably manage and protect our national forests in the Midwest and Eastern United States. We appreciate the sizeable challenges you face in balancing the diverse and varied uses you must accommodate while managing our public forests and recognize that you have made progress over the past six years. While the Administration has made a variety of improvements in adhering to and advancing the multiple use mandate that governs our national forests, more progress must be made and we urge you to emphasize efforts on the following issues:
- Responsible Timber Harvests: In the last six years, the direction of the Forest Service timber program has improved and responsible timber harvests on our public lands are growing. The program is nearing 3 billion board feet (3BBF) and expects to sell over 3.2 BBF in 2016 – a positive step forward. However, many Midwestern and Eastern forests can do more to deliver on the promises of multiple use by meeting integrated restoration objectives and delivering more fiber to the regions’ many forest products mills. As you know, these mills, and the communities they support, depend on timber from our national forests. USDA has the opportunity, operating under existing laws and regulations, and under approved forest plans and environmental analyses, to continue the upward trajectory seen in recent years. Acknowledging the budgetary constraints your agency faces, we urge the Forest Service to build on this positive trend and prioritize an integrated forest restoration program that can continue to improve the resiliency of national forests, while increasing harvests and sustaining our rural communities.
- Conservation Focus in Forest Planning: The Forest Service’s 2012 planning rule and associated directives, offer a unique opportunity for the agency to begin revising forest plans that will protect wildlands and conserve wildlife on our national forests. Under a set of consensus recommendations from a diverse National Advisory Committee, revisions of forest plans will provide robust opportunities for the public to participate in the wilderness inventory and evaluation process, and to develop strategies to improve the resiliency of ecosystems and resident wildlife populations on national forest lands. Conservation of our wildlife and protecting pristine landscapes are vital parts of the multiple use mandate on our national forests and we would encourage the agency to continue to prioritize these important values when revising forest plans.
- Implementation of Farm Bill Forestry Provisions: The 2014 Farm Bill contained several important provisions to increase the speed and efficiency of important forest health practices. Both the expansion of the Healthy Forests Restoration Act to address insect and disease outbreaks, and the nationwide authorization for so-called “Good Neighbor Authority,” represented substantive efforts to save taxpayer dollars, all while increasing the amount of collaborative forestry treatments happening on the ground. While we appreciate that initiating new policies take time, it is our understanding that few projects have been conducted under the Insect and Disease Treatment Authority, and final agreements are not yet in place to begin work on Good Neighbor Authority projects. We would encourage the Forest Service to implement these programs as quickly as practicable so their benefits can be fully realized.
- Collaborative Forestry Projects: As you know, the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program (CFLRP) was enacted 5 years ago to help avoid many of the controversies that were plaguing public land management decisions. By working collaboratively with all stakeholders, the program has been highly successful in planning and carrying out its initial tranche of projects. Among other accomplishments, the CFLRP has treated over 1 million acres to make forests more resilient to the effects of uncharacteristic wildfire. However, the nature of the program’s authorization directs much of CFLRP’s work towards national forests in the West. We would encourage the Forest Service to explore opportunities to use CFLRP’s inclusive stakeholder model for forest management decision-making on our national forests in the East as well.
Thank you for your attention to these important matters and your consideration of the aforementioned requests. We look forward to hearing back from you and to advancing progress on these issues.