(PRWEB) March 16, 2017
Citing the need to continue to support rural communities, rural jobs, private forest owners, and the economic and environmental benefits forests provide, 42 organization's participating in the Forests in the Farm Bill Coalition today released a letter outlining initial priorities for the 2018 Farm Bill.
From our nation’s forests, we manufacture over $200 billion in products annually, aiding rural economies and providing almost one million direct jobs. They provide much of the clean air and water, wildlife habitat, forest products, and recreational opportunities that every American enjoys. More than half of the forestland in the United States (475 million acres) is in private ownership. The Coalition believes that it is especially important that the Farm Bill continue to support these owners, many of whom provide these benefits at little or no cost to consumers.
“For the past three Farm Bills, Congress has heard the voices of rural America and passed a strong, innovative forest policy,” said Tom Martin, president and CEO of the American Forest Foundation. “Unfortunately, our work is not done yet.”
“The nation’s 59 State Foresters know that the Farm Bill is a unique opportunity to support rural America’s economic backbone and improve the quality of life in our communities,” said Bill Crapser, Wyoming State Forester and president of the National Association of State Foresters. “Support for these critical programs will allow state forestry agencies and their partners to continue to conserve, protect and enhance America’s trees and forests.”
"The Farm Bill provides a unique opportunity to enhance America's water, wood and wildlife across forests in the US," said, Chris Topik, Director of Restoring America's Forests of The Nature Conservancy. "The coalition's priorities will help provide forest owners and managers with tools aimed at forest conservation efforts that will help ensure a sustainable balance of economy and environment for the people who live, work and depend on our nation's forests."
The five priorities outlined by the Coalition are:
- Increasing the long-term protection and conservation of forest resources from threats such as wildfire, insects and diseases and promote the use of fire as an important forest management tool,
- Conserving and enhancing wildlife habitat through voluntary conservation activities, particularly habitat for at-risk species, to prevent the need to list species under the Endangered Species Act,
- Encouraging the retention and perpetuation of forestland and associated values, goods, and services,
- Increasing employment, rural jobs, and active forest management through a strong forest products industry, and
- Streamlining and otherwise improving forest and conservation programs to better enable use by private landowners and land managers to address many of the above issues.
“We understand these are aggressive priorities and the Agriculture Committee will be challenged by a tight budget,” said Becky Humphries, chief conservation and operations officer of the National Wild Turkey Federation. “However, we urge the Committee to resist additional cuts to Farm Bill programs that will limit the opportunities to tackle these issues and increase the management of our nation's forests.”
One key challenge noted in the letter was the ongoing issues with wildfire funding that plagues the U.S. Forest Service. Today wildfire fighting costs consume more than 50 percent of the budget, whereas in 1985 these costs were only 15 percent of the budget. While the letter recognizes that much of the responsibility for solving this problem lies with other committees, it asks the Committee to be “an advocate to fix this issue.”
The letter was released at a hearing held by the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Agriculture’s Subcommittee on Conservation and Forestry.
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The Forest in the Farm Bill Coalition in a diverse coalition of interests, including forest owners, conservationists, hunters, anglers, forest industry and natural resource professionals, that has worked together for over 15 years to build consensus forest sector platforms for the last three Farm Bills.