Thompson Subcommittee Explores Ways to Improve U.S. Forest Health, Expand Timber Production, Rural Economic Growth

Mar 27, 2012 Issues: Agriculture, Allegheny National Forest

Washington, D.C. – Today, U.S. Representative Glenn 'GT' Thompson, Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee's Subcommittee on Conservation, Energy & Forestry, held a public hearing, “U.S. Forest Service Land Management: Challenges and Opportunities,” to review several aspects affecting forest health, including timber harvests, wildlife management, invasive species, and the U.S. Forest Service's new planning rule.  The Subcommittee received testimony from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Forest Service Chief, Tom Tidwell, in addition to a wide variety of forestry stakeholders.  

“The health of our national forests is an issue of vital importance for rural America. Not only are our national forests a source of immense natural beauty, but they provide us with natural resources, recreation opportunities, wildlife habitat, and serve as economic engines for local communities,” said Chairman Thompson. “It's important to all of us that we have an effective plan in place that promotes healthier national forests.”

Last month, the U.S. Forest Service released a report, which outlines the USDA’s goals for forest health. In the report, the agency stated one of its goals is to increase annual timber harvests from 2.4 billion board feet to 3 billion board feet in fiscal year 2014.  Timber harvests have been in decline in recent years.  The all-time high was 12.7 billion board feet in 1987, but dipped to its lowest level at 1.7 in 2002.

Thompson pressed Chief Tidwell on how the agency intends to accomplish that goal while stressing the need to increase the number of timber harvests even more to help bolster economic growth, and prevent avoidable catastrophic wildfires through better forest management.  

“I am sure I speak for many in this room when I say that I was pleased by USDA’s announcement last month that it intended to increase the annual harvest to three billion board feet off national forest land by FY 2014,” said Thompson. “However, for the sake of our forests’ health and the health of our rural economies, I believe we can and must go beyond that figure.”

The hearing also covered the issue of combating invasive species.  Gregory A. Hoover, Senior Extension Associate with The Pennsylvania State University, College of Agricultural Sciences, discussed his experience in researching and combating various invasive species, including emerald ash borer, which has been a problem in Pennsylvania.

“Early detection of new infestations of the emerald ash borer is important for the success of any effective management efforts to protect the health of ash trees. Research has led to the development of sticky traps and associated lures that are being used to survey for this invasive pest,” said Hoover.  “Continued research on the identification of an effective pheromone for the emerald ash borer should be supported,” adding that, “an increase in cooperative extension education efforts that target the public and other stakeholders groups needs to be supported.”

The hearing also discussed the Forest Service’s new planning rule, which was issued in January.  Chief Tidwell stated the “new rule corrects the inefficiencies of the 1982 planning procedures and provides a modern framework for planning in order to sustain and restore the health and resilience of our National Forests.” Thompson’s Subcommittee has actively engaged the Forest Service since the agency first released a proposed rule on February 14, 2011, and will continue to do so, to ensure the Service’s mission of multiple uses remains a central tenet of the planning rule throughout its implementation.