Since the Rural Council was established last June, the Council has been a tremendous forum for discussing how to increase the focus on conservation work and create jobs in rural America. Here at the White House, we have been proud to work with Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack on the recent report: “Increasing the Pace of Restoration and Job Creation on our National Forests” (USDA Restoration Report). The commitments we made in this report exemplify the progress we can achieve through the work of the Rural Council.
America’s forests provide myriad goods and services for the American public: clean drinking water, habitat for wildlife and fish, timber, and jobs that generate opportunities to create rural wealth. We believe that increasing the pace of forest restoration is important to the economic prosperity of rural America. Accelerating the restoration of our National Forests will also help combat the threats of disease, pests, wildfires and climate change to our forests.
Our forests support rural economies through recreation, tourism, and the production of wood products and bioenergy. The forest restoration report calls for a 20 percent increase of treated forest acres over the next three years, which would increase forest products sold by the National Forests from 2.4 billion board feet in 2011 to 3 billion board feet no later than 2014. This increase will accomplish critical restoration objectives, support jobs and stimulate a more vibrant forest industry that will provide workers with the skills to undertake other restoration projects. Active management of the nation’s forests, and the forest products industry that supports sustainable actions, are vital to meeting these objectives. The Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration (CFLR) program is an excellent example of how USDA works successfully in partnership with states, communities, tribes and private land owners and it is exciting to see opportunities ahead with the announcement of ten additional forest and watershed restoration projects for a total of twenty (CFLR projects in 2012).
Accelerating restoration also will encourage an expanded market for wood products, including biomass utilization. The Forest Service is currently working with USDA on 12 Wood-to-Energy projects that will showcase how forest restoration and job creation go hand in hand.
The forest restoration strategy also advances the priorities of President Obama’s Americas Great Outdoors initiative by encouraging greater use and access to our public lands. We know there is a strong link between outdoor recreation and economic health. Currently, recreation activities on National Forest System lands alone contribute $14.5 billion annually to the U.S. economy and support hundreds of thousands of jobs in local communities. Just last month, President Obama directed his Administration to craft a new national tourism strategy focused on creating jobs – and a key piece will be encouraging foreign tourists to visit national parks and national forests, which will benefit rural economies.
The Rural Council provides an excellent forum for advancing ideas to benefit rural America. The Council will support this effort to deliver results from the forest restoration report and as work progresses in building a forest restoration economy.
Jay Jensen is Associate Director for Land and Water Ecosystems at the Council on Environmental Quality.
Doug McKalip is Senior Policy Advisor for Rural Affairs in the White House Domestic Policy Council.