Seattle, WA - Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is in the Northwest
today, where he promises a major policy address about the future of the
U.S. Forest Service. There is speculation he will move forward with
making the "roadless rule" a federal priority, and also speak to the
agency's critical budget shortfall that has left maintenance and
habitat projects undone.
Those two topics are actually connected, according to Jane Danowitz with the Pew Environment Group.
"One good way to address maintenance backlogs and backlogs in general
is to put a halt on any new road building, which is what the Roadless
Area Conservation Rule accomplishes."
The national forests are in their worst shape in a century, says
Danowitz, and she hopes Vilsack has some bold, but practical ideas to
improve them. There are more than 15 million acres of national
forestland here in Oregon.
In Washington, conservation groups say they're counting on Vilsack to
clarify Barack Obama's campaign promises to do more to protect
wilderness. David Raines, with the Cascade Land Conservancy, says the agency needs a new vision, and also more people.
"We don't have enough biologists; we don't have enough folks to go out
there and do the work to restore forests and take care of fire issues.
Most of the budget today goes to fighting fires. Rather than trying to
manage a more sustainable, healthy ecosystem, we're spending huge
amounts of money fighting fires."
Raines says one problem the Forest Service faces in the Northwest is a
checkerboard of public and private forestland. He thinks the agency
should be doing more to work with private landowners to keep forest
acreage from disappearing, and hopes Vilsack addresses that concern.
His speech is this morning at 10:00, at Seward Park in Seattle.