Vilsack Directs Forest Service to Boost Forest Restoration, Improve Resilience and Curb Climate Change

June 29, 2022

Solutions from the Land commends Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and the USDA for plans announced last week aimed at restoring forests, improving resilience and addressing climate change challenges. The strategy is refreshing and pragmatic in its approach to stabilizing a resource that has grown more vulnerable to rising temperatures driven by a changing climate.

Vilsack made the announcement by video at the inaugural summit of the U.S. Chapter of 1t.org, an alliance of public and private sector organizations striving to mobilize a global reforestation community to conserve, restore and grow one trillion trees around the world by 2030. With daily operations led by the World Economic Forum, an international non-governmental advocacy group, and American Forests (formerly the American Forestry Association), the oldest national nonprofit conservation organization in the nation, the U.S. chapter aims to facilitate the leadership of companies, nonprofits, governments and individuals to reach the reforestation goal.

Vilsack articulated the crisis threatening our forests, noting they “represent some of the most biodiverse parts of our planet, yet drought and intensifying and catastrophic wildfires are threatening [them] to such a degree that many are not able to regenerate on their own.”

He has directed U.S. Forest Service (USFS) Chief Randy Moore and USDA Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment Homer Wilkes to take a series of actions to build carbon stewardship and climate resilience in the nation’s national forests.

SfL is especially pleased with Vilsack’s directive for the USFS to immediately develop plans for intensifying work to reduce wildfire risk, increase the safe use of prescribed fire, and foster new, innovative markets for sustainable forest products in support of jobs and markets in rural communities. He’s also called on the Forest Service to conduct an inventory of old-growth and mature forests, accelerate reforestation, restore ecosystems and boost nursery capacity to grow more tree seedlings for post-fire recovery and other planting efforts.

The agriculture secretary also has called on the USFS to not only identify forests at risk, but also determine how those areas are currently managed and analyze how best to resolve any data gaps that might arise. That analysis, he said, will be used to develop a decision-support tool to enhance carbon stewardship, wildlife habitat, watersheds, outdoor recreation and more.

Vilsack’s latest pronouncement of department plans for boosting forestry resources stem in large part from an executive order from President Biden in April that called on agencies to find ways to strengthen forests, which the White House said “provide clean air and water [and] sustain the plant and animal life fundamental to combating the global climate and biodiversity crises.

Earlier this year, the Forest Service released a wildfire crisis strategy, which aims to treat 20 million acres of national forests and 30 million acres of other federal, state, Tribal, and private lands over the next decade to improve conditions and reduce wildfire risk across the landscape.

The USDA’s newly announced focus on forestry recovery and resilience efforts builds on an initiative the department launched last November. To develop climate solutions that strengthen rural America, the USDA partnered with agriculture and forestry interests, as well as with rural communities, to finance the deployment of climate-smart farming and forestry practices to aid in the marketing of climate-smart agricultural commodities.

Under the Climate Smart Agriculture and Forestry Partnership Initiative, the department is supporting a set of pilot projects that provide incentives to implement climate smart conservation practices on working lands, including forestlands, and to quantify and monitor the carbon and greenhouse gas benefits associated with those practices. The initiative, which was designed to complement and supplement existing private sector and state compliance markets for carbon offsets, represents an critically important effort to monetize the value of ecosystem services in the price farmers receive for the commodities they produce. 21st century challenges require 21st century solutions and for our nation’s vast forestlands, we need a new way forward as the policies and programs of the past are no longer addressing todays let alone tomorrow’s needs. SfL, which numbers many forestland owners and operators among its broad leadership team, commends Secretary Vilsack for his transformational change approach to managing forests and we look forward to working with him, the U.S. Forest Service and stakeholders to optimize the environmental and economic benefits that can be derived from a balanced approach to sustaining our woodlands.

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