Spring 2010

Volume 19 No. 1

Federal Government Forest Policy

Beginning to Take Shape under New Administration

by Bill Minter


Twelve months into the new Obama administration, specific policies towards the nation’s forestlands are still evolving. Several key administration appointments have recently been made which will no doubt clarify the direction the administration expects to take—both in the management of the national forests and private family forests.

USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack outlined his vision for our nation’s forests in a major address on August 14, 2009. In it, he acknowledged recently appointed U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell (a 32-year career agency employee) and the role this agency plays in the management of the National Forests. But he went on to share his vision for a USDA Forest Service that adopts an “all lands approach” requiring close collaboration with the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and its work on America’s privately-held working lands.

In this address, he highlighted a strong link between economics and environmental benefits. Under this administration’s tenure he envisioned a USDA that would enable both public and family forestlands to be restored and managed to protect water resources while making them more resilient to climatic changes. He recognized the role that the private sector markets play in generating rural wealth, facilitating forest management, and keeping forests forested.

Vilsack specifically highlighted non-traditional markets for climate change mitigation and biomass energy, while continuing to recognize the need for the more traditional forest resources. Besides carbon sequestration and bioenergy, he expected increased markets for water that would provide rural landowners with incentives to restore watersheds and manage forests for clean abundant water supplies.

Vilsack’s initial actions have included:

a) Commencing the national signup of the first 12.7 million acres of private agriculture and forestlands under the Conservation Stewardship Program, which encourages landowners to maintain existing conservation activities and adopt additional ones.

b) Awarding of $4.2 million in grants to small businesses and community groups to develop innovative uses for woody biomass from hazardous fuel reduction projects on National Forests.

c) Awarding $667 million and $483 million of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (“Stimulus”) funds to forestry projects on federal and state/private forestlands, respectively.

d) Taking over decision-making authority from the U.S. Forest Service over proposed forest management or road construction projects in inventoried roadless areas on National Forests for an interim one-year period. The directive is meant to ensure that USDA can carefully consider activities in these inventoried roadless areas while a long term roadless area policy is developed and relevant court cases move forward.

Bill Minter is the Policy Committee Chair for the Indiana Society of American Foresters