WASHINGTON — Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is urging more attentive management of forests, calling them valuable environmental and economic attributes that are in need of restoration and conservation.
Such an approach would combat climate change, protect water resources and improve forest conditions, he said in a speech prepared for delivery later Friday. Not only that, the changes would create thousands of jobs, Vilsack added.
"Declining forest health and the effects of our changing climate have resulted in an increasing number of catastrophic wildfires and insect outbreaks that have consumed the time and resources of the Forest Service," the former Iowa governor said in remarks obtained by The Associated Press.
"It is time for a change in the way we view and manage America's forest lands with an eye toward the future," he said. "This will require an unprecedented, all-lands approach that engages the American people and stakeholders. It is essential that we reconnect Americans across the nation with the natural resources and landscapes that sustain us."
Vilsack is set to deliver the speech, his first address on the Forest Service, later Friday in Seattle. He was urging "a collaborative management approach with a heavy focus on restoring" natural resources.
The Forest Service manages national forests and grasslands encompassing about 193 million acres — an area equivalent to the size of Texas. Still, more than 80 percent of forests in the United States are outside the National Forest System. Vilsack said the Obama administration will seek to increase cooperation with states and private land owners, including businesses, individuals and Native American tribes.
The administration's plan calls for the Forest Service to help develop "green jobs" that help restore forests while using them as "carbon sinks" to help offset global warming, Vilsack said.
Some conservation work has already begun, he said. The Forest Service has allocated about $1.5 billion through the economic stimulus law for conservation and forest health. A total of 512 projects are aimed at creating jobs and promoting forest rehabilitation through projects such as removal of small trees and underbrush that serve as fuel for wildfires.
At least 30 projects will promote development of biofuels from trees, Vilsack said.