Pioneer Editorial: Vision focus on climate change, water
National Forests, as administered by the U.S. Forest Service, are an important resource both locally and as a national treasure. But as evidenced in recent years with the push-pull relationship over how to use those resources and the rising surge of wildfires, the health of our national forests are in jeopardy.
It was refreshing and significant, then, that high-ranking U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack outlined a vision for managing the nation's forests. It is one that keys on protecting water resources and in combating climate change.
Vilsack's heavy emphasis is on water, which is vastly important for federal lands in the West, where pressure mounts to continue to supply clean, fresh water to cities. He called for the U.S. Forest Service to work with watersheds so that forest lands are restored to their former capacities. Watersheds with a large proportion of forest cover are more likely to be associated with good water quality, with forests protecting soil, moderating stream flow, supporting healthy aquatic systems and sustaining good water quality. Nearly 87 percent of the nation's fresh water supply originates from forests and agricultural lands, and more than 200 million people rely on their drinking water from public and private forests and grasslands, USFS says.
Vilsack also spoke of the U.S. Forest Service helping to develop "green jobs" that help restore forests while using them in climate change efforts to capture carbon. That could be important to our area, as the Chippewa National Forest, under sustainable forestry, provides raw resources for many wood products which now could include bio-energy. It is our hope that Vilsack's call for green jobs includes woods products that call for a sustainable harvest from the Chippewa, which can also aid climate change as young trees growing absorb more carbon than over-mature trees.
"Forests help generate rural wealth through recreation and tourism, through the creation of green jobs, and through the production of wood products and energy," Vilsack said in an address Friday in Seattle. We hope that all he cited will be taken weighed in National Forest management.
Some work has already begun, he noted, through $1.5 billion in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The economic stimulus is funding 512 projects that will create jobs restoring the nation's private, state and federal forests through hazardous fuel reduction, forest health protection, rehabilitation and hazard mitigation activities. It includes $2.65 million for the rehabilitation of Civilian Conservation Corps facilities on the Chippewa and Superior National Forests, such as Camp Rabideau on the Chip.
The new vision should help guide Forest Service management of our forestlands in a way that we can conserve and protect them while also sustainably using them.